A regulatory agency is an organization that creates, oversees and enforces standards for specific fields of activities. For those in highly regulated industries, such as financial services, regulators are tasked with protecting consumers and ensuring a sound marketplace for all. Regulatory agencies often bring enforcement actions against companies with misleading or deceptive marketing practices. Enforcement actions, more often than not, come with heavy monetary penalties that could damage the brand's bottom line and reputation.
Some regulators have been around for decades, while others have entered the arena only recently. All of them, though, carry out enforcement actions on a regular basis and take consumers' concerns seriously, which is why every brand should be constantly monitoring their marketing and communications for compliance with the laws the regulators impose.
There are a plethora of regulatory bodies, and each industry has its own set of regulators that govern them, but here are a few of the key players to be aware of.
Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB)
The CFPB "regulates the offering and provision of consumer financial products or services under the federal consumer financial laws and educates and empowers consumers to make better informed financial decisions."
Founded in 2011 under the Dodd-Frank Act, the CFPB has not been afraid to exercise its regulatory power against lenders, banks, credit card issuers, and others. Their main targets are consumer financial companies engaged in false or deceptive marketing that could trick consumers into making financial decisions or purchasing products they otherwise would not. In just 9 years, the CFPB has tackled huge household names in consumer finance and has made a significant impact in the financial services environment.
The CFPB also maintains a consumer complaint database containing over 1.3 million consumer complaints & key data and trends on consumer sentiment towards various industries. Learn more about some of the key trends in the latest edition of the Complaint Risk Signal Report.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC)
The FTC's responsibility is to protect consumers from unfair & deceptive practices and maintain competition to promote a marketplace free from anti-competitive mergers, business practices or public policy outcomes.
As part of their ongoing consumer protection responsibilities, the FTC has charged a wide range of companies with unfair, deceptive, or fraudulent practices, including department stores, debt collection companies, and health brands.
When it comes to marketing compliance, the FTC's main targets are native advertising campaigns, false endorsements, deceptively worded advertisements, and threatening forms of marketing. Even more recently, the FTC has shifted a large focus on internet advertising-specifically influencer marketing.
Learn about top complaints, track the latest trends and download visualizations from the FTC's website here.
Department of Education (DOE)
The DOE's goal is to "promote student achievement and preparation for global competitiveness by fostering educational excellence and ensuring equal access." The department does so by:
- Establishing policies on federal financial aid for education, and distributing as well as monitoring those funds.
- Collecting data on America’s schools and disseminating research.
- Focusing national attention on key educational issues.
- Prohibiting discrimination and ensuring equal access to education.
The DOE has a heavy hand in protecting a certain type of vulnerable consumers: students. On top of creating policies guiding public school curricula and protecting students' civil rights, this agency has used its authority over federal student financial aid to regulate the marketing practices of for-profit colleges and student loan providers.
Federal Communications Commission (FCC)
The FCC maintains rules and regulations involving the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA), including policies regarding the Do-Not-Call List, to ensure that consumers only receive calls they consented to.
In addition, the FCC monitors and carries out enforcement actions against marketers using deceptive tactics to sell communications products, such as prepaid calling cards and wireless phone services.
The FCC has its own consumer complaint database for all consumer issues related to communications products. Since October 31, 2014, the FCC has received over 1.68 million consumer complaints, with over 200,000 complaints related to telemarketing alone. Explore the FCC's complaint database here.
U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC)
The SEC is responsible for protecting investors, maintaining fair, orderly & efficient markets and facilitating capital formation. It promotes full public disclosure, protects investors against fraudulent and manipulative practices and monitors corporate takeover actions in the U.S.
The SEC brings hundreds of civil enforcement actions against individuals & companies for violation of the securities laws, working closely with many other institutions and regulatory agencies to do so.
Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA)
FINRA oversees U.S broker-dealers to ensure that they operate fairly and honestly. FINRA works under the supervision of the SEC to write and enforce rules governing the activities of all registered broker-dealer firms and registered brokers in the U.S., examines firms for compliance, fosters market transparency and educates investors.
In 2018 alone, FINRA brought forth 921 disciplinary actions, levied $61 million in fines and ordered $25.5 million in restitution.
Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC)
The OCC is responsible for ensuring that national banks and federal savings associations operate in a safe manner, provide fair access to financial services, treat consumers fairly and comply with applicable laws and regulations.
The OCC carries out its responsibilities by issuing banking rules and regulations, visiting and examining banks it oversees, evaluating applications for new banks or charters, imposing corrective measures and enforcement actions for those who do not comply with regulations and by protecting consumers through fair access and equal treatment.
State Attorneys General
Each state has its own State Attorney General who is the top legal officer of their state or territory. They advise and represent their legislature and state agencies to protect citizens. Among other responsibilities, State AGs protect consumers against fraud and abuse, ensure a fair and competitive marketplace, defend state laws against court challenges and more.