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Legal, Regulatory, and Privacy Issues

CFPB to continue public access to complaints database

The consumer protection watchdog is also adding additional features to enhance this resource

Summary

After weighing the flood of feedback from the public, the CFPB has decided not to remove public access to its complaints database.

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The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau will continue to provide the public access to its consumer complaints file, the consumer watchdog has reported.

It is also going to add features to the database, besides continuing to publish consumer narratives about their experiences. The CFPB had previously weighed whether to shut down public access to this resource.

Announcing the government agency’s decision, CFPB Director Kathleen L. Kraninger said, “The continued publication of the database, along with the enhancements, empowers consumers and informs the public.”

She noted that the CFPB’s consumer complaint database “has not been without controversy,” since its launch. When the agency asked for consumer feedback in 2018, it received a flood of comments from different groups, including individuals, consumer groups, government officials, corporations and academics.

The CFPB has tried to address the concerns voiced in this feedback, and will also incorporate additional data input, in a bid to provide more context to the complaints database.

See related:  Poll: Few aware of embattled consumer watchdog

CFPB looked into removing complaints data from website

In 2018, the CFPB was deciding whether to delete the consumer complaints from its website. Its review process asked for feedback from the public.

Mick Mulvaney, the Trump-appointed CFPB acting director at the time, told Congress in an April 2018 hearing that he was considering the possibility. The Trump Administration has also previously indicated an interest in doing away with public access to the complaints database, and allowing only government agencies to view it.

The complaints database goes back to 2011, and gives consumers an anonymous avenue to sound off about financial services companies. It also doesn’t name the businesses they complain about.

See related:  Consumer advocates say CFPB’s new debt collection proposal is inadequate

Enhancements to database

The CFPB is now making the following changes to the database:

  1. More clearly displaying disclosures that the complaints do not represent a statistical sample of consumers’ experiences.
  2. Highlighting that consumers can find answers to frequently asked questions, so that they can do their research before submitting their complaints.
  3. Informing consumers more prominently that they can contact companies directly and get responses about their specific queries.
  4. Adding “dynamic visualization tools” such as “geospatial and trend views” feeding from recent complaint data, that enable consumers to get a better understanding of market conditions.
  5. Making features for “aggregation and analysis” more prominent.
  6. Looking into how to better enable companies to respond to the public complaints.
  7. Exploring providing additional perspective for the complaints, with the addition of market share and company size information.

The consumer protection agency, set up in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, has dealt with more than 1.9 million complaints, it reports. More than 1.3 million of these complaints have been sent to more than 5,000 companies for response, with a response rate of 97 percent.

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