Revamped CFPB Complaint Database Allows Consumers To Publicly Air Financial Grievances

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s quest to allow consumers the option to publicly air their grievances about consumer financial products and service became a reality today.

The CFPB announced that it has finalized a policy giving consumers the opportunity to share details about their issues with financial companies in the public-facing Consumer Complaint Database.

The CFPB accepts complaints on many consumer financial products, including credit cards, mortgages, bank accounts, private student loans, vehicle and other consumer loans, credit reporting, money transfers, debt collection and payday loans.

While the CFPB’s current complaint process allows consumers to fill out a detailed description of their complaint, that information is kept private.

When consumers view the current CFPB complaint database they see very little information concerning the grievance.

When consumers view the current CFPB complaint database they see very little information concerning the grievance.

According to the CFPB, even in their pared down state the consumer complaints have served as a crucial tool in finding violations of federal consumer-protection laws. They have also assisted other consumers in getting their issues with finical companies resolved.

“Consumer narratives shed light on the full consumer perspective behind a complaint,” CFPB Director Richard Cordray said in a statement. “Narratives humanize the problems consumers face in the marketplace. Today’s policy will serve to empower consumers by helping them make informed decisions and helping track trends in the consumer financial market.”

The new policy would give consumers the option to share their account of what happened in the database. By furnishing these first-person narratives consumers could provide context to the issue and help the public detect specific trends in the market, while also aiding consumer decision-making and driving improved customer service.

The CFPB contends that by giving consumers an option to publicly share their stories, it would greatly enhance the utility of the database and provide consumers with valuable information needed to make better financial choices for themselves and their families.

One would understandably be concerned that making some personal information available to the public would increase the risk of that data being compromised or of identity theft, but the CFPB claims the proposed policy provides safeguards to protect consumers’ sensitive information.

Under the policy, the CFPB would not publish the complaint narrative unless the consumer provides informed consent. This means that when consumers submit a complaint through consumerfinance.gov, they would have to affirmatively check a consent box to give the Bureau permission to publish their narrative. Consumers would also be able to withdraw their consent to publish the narrative at any time.

In order for a complaint to be published it would have to meet certain criteria, the CFPB says. Such requirements include that the complaint is submitted through the CFPB website, that the complaint is not a duplicate submission, and that the consumer has a confirmed relationship with the financial institution. Complaints will not be published if they do not meet all of the publication criteria.

Before the narrative is published, the Bureau will take steps to remove personal information from the complaint including names, phone numbers, Social Security numbers and other identifiers.

Companies will also be given the opportunity to post a written response to the consumer’s narrative. According to the CFPB, in most cases the response will appear at the same time as the consumer’s narrative so that a reviewer can see both sides concurrently.

CFPB Finalizes Policy to Give Consumers the Opportunity to Voice Publicly Complaints About Financial Companies [Consumer Financial Protection Bureau]