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Internship at CFPB

by Felix Owusu (MPP '15)

Felix Owusu with former MA Congressman Barney Frank, who co-authored the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act which established the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

I came to the Goldman School to develop my skills in quantitative policy research while gaining experience designing, researching, and evaluating policies that reduce poverty and inequality. With these goals in mind, I chose to work in the Office of Research at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) this past summer in Washington, DC. I have a background in finance and economic research, and I was eager to leverage that expertise and learn more about consumer financial policy in one of the Office of Research’s several teams.

To my surprise, I was assigned to the Decision-making and Behavioral Studies group, an area in which I had no previous experience or even relevant coursework. I worried about jumping into a research environment full of scholars with PhDs in behavioral studies and psychology, but I quickly learned that the rigorous and multidisciplinary education provided at the Goldman School had more than prepared me to join and contribute to the CFPB’s Office of Research; I also brought an outsider’s perspective that the other researchers found valuable.

In one of my major projects I worked with a team of researchers and a private mortgage and home search company to design experimental interventions aimed at measuring the impact of additional shopping effort when choosing a mortgage on consumers’ home-owning outcomes. Our concern was that some consumers, particularly those with limited education and low financial literacy, were paying higher interest rates than necessary by not shopping around for mortgage servicers and by failing to accurately compare the complex terms of competing mortgages. Because I had substantial experience in statistics and quantitative methods from my first year at GSPP, I was able to contribute by completing an analysis of how many participants were needed in order to be confident in the results of the statistical tests that the other researchers were going to be using to evaluate the impact of the interventions.

Relying on the statistical and programming training I had received in Professor Rucker Johnson’s Decision Analysis, Modeling, and Quantitative Methods course and Professor Solomon Hsiang’s Spatial Data and Analysis course, I was able to not only complete the analysis for my assigned project, but to build a customized tool designed to meet the unique needs of the Office of Research’s experimental study designs more broadly, which could be used in other projects going forward.

The CFPB is a relatively new federal bureau that is still in the early phases of establishing its position as a regulator and making the rules that will define its impact on the financial markets. I joined the Office of Research to gain a firsthand understanding of how high-quality research can impact policymaking, and toward that end my experience at the CFPB was invaluable and has helped shape how I plan to contribute as a policy researcher. Next fall I plan to continue my studies toward a PhD in public policy so that I can continue to impact policymaking through research and scholarship. My time at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau was instrumental both in solidifying my interest in engaging with policy primarily through research and in illustrating the importance of engaging policy through an interdisciplinary lens.

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This article was originally posted on the Spring 2015 edition of Policy Notes, a bi-annual publication released by the Goldman School of Public Policy.

To read about more student experiences like this, visit our Student Profile portal.