By Jill Jaracz


5 Min. To Read

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One of the objectives of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) is to make sure that financial service products work for Americans, and when they don't, the CFPB wants to hear about it.

To that end, since July 2011 they've logged over a half million consumer complaints about a wide range of financial services products, from loans and mortgages to all sorts of topics regarding credit cards and debt collection. The CFPB works to resolve every complaint it receives, although whether or not the resolution works in favor of the consumer really depends on the individual situation.

With this information, the CFPB also created a Consumer Complaint Database to track the types of complaints and the action taken by financial services companies to resolve them.

Last month, the CFPB gave consumers the option to publish their complaints in its Consumer Complaint Database, meaning that the database will now be able to contain a lot more robust information and specifics around specific consumer issues. The CFPB hopes that consumers sharing more information with each other will help to make improvements in the marketplace.

The agency's policy around consumer complaint narratives has specific procedures. The consumer fills out their name, the company they're complaining about and when the event took place. Then they can describe what happened and can even attach any documentation they have to support their case. The CFPB then assigns a case number and acts as a middleman between the consumer and the financial services company until the problem is resolved.

The CFPB did note that this new sharing feature is optional--consumers will have to check a box to opt in to that ability. It also said that that submitted stories would be scrubbed of their personal identifying information before they hit the database. The agency also said that choosing to share your personal story wouldn't change how it dealt with resolving the complaint--if you chose not to share it with the public, your case would still be taken as seriously as those who do publicize their stories. Consumers may opt out of the process at any time and have their story removed from the database.

Companies will also have the option to publish a public response to public complaints. They'll be able to choose from a set of options in order to show the public their response to specific issues. Companies have 180 days to respond to complaints once they receive them. Under the new sharing system, they won't be obligated to share their response publicly.

Details of consumer complaints will only be made public if the consumer is submitting the complaint for the first time and is doing so through CFPB's website. The CFPB must also be able to confirm that the consumer does have a relationship with the financial service institution named in the complaint.

“Consumer narratives shed light on the full consumer perspective behind a complaint,” said CFPB Director Richard Cordray 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.”

However, players in the financial services industry aren't necessarily keen on this idea. In a statement, Frank Keating, the president and CEO of the American Bankers Association, said, "While the banking industry is committed to helping consumers make informed and responsible financial decisions, public disclosure of unverified consumer complaint narratives doesn’t advance that goal and raises significant consumer privacy issues. This risks turning the CFPB database into a questionable — even misleading — resource and risks tarnishing the reputation of individual companies without substantiation.

"The proposal offers no meaningful options for a bank to publically dispute an erroneous complaint. Checking a standardized box will not provide valuable information to consumers, and banks will not choose to engage in a public disagreement with their customers. Since the CFPB proposes to make no effort to ensure the accuracy of complaint data, the Bureau becomes an official purveyor of unsubstantiated and potentially false information instead of fostering informed and responsible consumer choice."

The CFPB hasn't started sharing anyone's story just yet. Once its policy is published in the Federal Register, companies will have at least 90 days before the CFPB starts releasing any stories that consumers choose to share with the public.

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