Attendees rave about Consumer Empowerment Conference

A summary of our November 2015 National Consumer Empowerment Conference.
Published: Tuesday, January 05, 2016

2015 National Conference Program BookPDF Icon

Attendees are raving about Consumer Action’s National Consumer Empowerment Conference, held in November near Chicago. Each year the conference convenes Consumer Action’s most active community group partners along with consumer education experts and advocates, legislative, regulatory and industry representatives, and other key stakeholders to address critical issues and share best practices in community-based consumer education and empowerment.

“Our annual conference is a huge event for us, and we’re proud to provide the community-based organizations we work with the rare opportunity to speak with and learn from the country’s top community educators and subject matter experts,” said Ruth Susswein, Consumer Action’s deputy director of national priorities.

This year’s invitation-only, multi-day conference welcomed guests on the first evening at a dinner and networking event. Attendees participated in a lively group trivia game to test their knowledge about consumer marketplace and financial issues.

Attendees woke up on day two to a full breakfast and a full schedule as they prepared to hear from leading consumer advocates—experts like Michelle De Mooy of the Center for Democracy & Technology, Aracely Panameño of the Center for Responsible Lending, John Breyault of the National Consumers League and Micah Hauptman of the Consumer Federation of America. Zixta Martinez, associate director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s Division of External Affairs, also spoke at the event, giving attendees a detailed update on the critically important federal bureau’s ongoing work to protect consumers across the country.

The sessions held throughout the day and into the next addressed topics including advances in fair lending and fair housing; the fiduciary responsibilities of financial advisers to their clients; privacy and data security in the digital age; how to obtain and maintain good credit; and the dangers of subprime car loans.

Presenters such as Kevin Stein, associate director of the California Reinvestment Coalition, delved deep into their topics to offer attendees knowledge they need to return to their communities and empower consumers. Stein discussed the Community Reinvestment and Home Mortgage Disclosure Acts at length. The former has increased lending opportunities for all consumers, including historically underserved groups. The latter has provided critical data that helps the federal government identify impediments to home ownership. Stein also described how disparate lending and redlining have negatively impacted low-income communities and people of color, and gave examples of how advocates have effectively combatted these discriminatory and illegal practices.

Many of the sessions combined a panel of experts from several consumer groups and financial organizations to provide a comprehensive exploration of a critical issue impacting consumers. A session on credit scores, credit reports and alternative data featured Jim Wehmann, executive vice president at credit-scoring firm Fair Isaac; National Consumer Law Center staff attorney Chi Chi Wu; and Dara Duguay, the executive director of the Credit Builder’s Alliance, which helps hundreds of non-profits collaborate with credit reporting agencies on behalf of their clients.

Each panelist was able to offer his or her unique expertise on the subject of consumer credit. Duguay explained how to use credit building techniques like rent reporting (combined with financial coaching and asset building programs) to establish a baseline credit history and move consumers out of poverty. Wu spoke about the perils that erroneous data pose to consumers’ credit history, and existing regulations governing credit scores (including the Fair Credit Reporting and the Equal Credit Opportunity Acts). Wehmann gave attendees an overview of how Fair Isaac’s FICO score assesses consumer creditworthiness, described new consumer-friendly developments in the organization’s scoring model and explained how consumers can utilize FICO’s recently launched updated website to get a comprehensive picture of their credit.

Many participants raved about how well organized and informative the conference was. “I learned a lot and made some great connections,” said attendee Melissa Gopnik of the non-profit Doorways to Dreams (D2D) Fund. “I was particularly impressed by how smoothly everything went and how the facilities and food were excellent. I know how much planning it takes to make things look seamless, so a huge round of applause to Consumer Action.”

“This year’s conference was a smashing success,” added Susswein. “And it would not have been possible without our speakers, who so generously lent their time and expertise to educate and empower others.”

The 2015 National Consumer Empowerment Conference was underwritten by Citi, JPMorgan Chase, TracFone Wireless and VISA Inc. To view a complete list of sponsors and find a link to the 2015 conference program book, click here.




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