CFPB Director Responds to Reports about Consumer Complaint Database


12/1/2015 1:05:00 PM

American Banker recently delved into the accuracy of the CFPB’s database for consumers to submit complaints about financial services and products and companies to respond, resulting in a letter to the editor from Richard Cordray.

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Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Director Richard Cordray has come to the defense of the bureau's Consumer Complaint Database and its accuracy in response to an American Banker article, “Errors Abound in CFPB Complaint Portal.”

“The consumer complaint database has evolved and improved over time, and it was disappointing that a recent American Banker article, 'Errors Abound in CFPB Complaint Portal,' was itself riddled with inaccuracies about the database and how it works,” Cordray writes in a letter to the editor published Nov. 30.

As ACA previously reported, American Banker reviewed internal CFPB documents and interviewed current and former agency officials to find that in some cases complaints could be counted multiple times.

According to the CFPB, there are more than 480,000 complaints on a variety of consumer financial products and services on the database, which have been submitted to nearly 3,000 companies for responses.

“While the CFPB argues any mistakes are minor and limited in scope, they are worrisome to agency officials because of how much the CFPB is guided by consumer complaints,” American Banker reported Nov. 17. “The agency uses them a partial basis for industry guidance, rulemaking and enforcement actions … in many cases, the flaws in the system are an unintentional byproduct of the CFPB's internal policies regarding complaints. The CFPB examines a consumer's narrative and creates a new complaint for any entity that is named, even though some companies are merely named in passing.”

In his response to the American Banker article, Cordray also notes that the CFPB's Inspector General report from September found only a “relatively small” number of complaints with inaccuracies. “Likewise, the story cites only three purported 'errors' out of hundreds of thousands of complaints handled.”

Cordray writes in his response to American Banker, “Companies also play a key role in helping to ensure the accuracy of the information in the database. They can let the bureau know if the complaining consumer is not their customer, if a complaint was submitted by an unauthorized party, or if one complaint duplicates another. These complaints will not be published in the database. We continue to welcome constructive feedback and to enhance the database as a valuable resource for consumers and industry.”

The American Banker editors also responded to Cordray's letter and specific facts in the Nov. 17 article.

“We are happy to publish Director Cordray's response, and to incorporate his perspective into our coverage of CFPB database errors. That said, Director Cordray does not dispute any of the examples given in the article. American Banker spoke with five current and former CFPB officials for the story. Those people, all of whom had knowledge of the database and its inner workings, agreed that it had serious problems, so much so that they were afraid to trust information from it. Cordray correctly notes that an inspector general's report said the database contained few mistakes, something American Banker should have noted in the original article. But that report did not address the issues that our CFPB sources were raising.”

ACA International has submitted comments on multiple aspects of the consumer complaint database, including the consumer narratives and data normalization.

ACA continues to advocate that to the extent the complaint database remains publicly available and held out as a source of information for understanding the marketplace, it is critical that the database be as well rounded, accurate, and reflective as possible. 

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