Data from the Consumer Complaint Database is available, plus users can submit their own complaints on behalf of consumers. ACA is concerned that context and stakeholder input are missing from the Government Portal development.
11/21/2022 2:15 P.M.
4 minute read
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is under a new initiative to share consumer complaint data with select cities and counties through its “Government Portal.”
“We wanted to increase the impact of our complaint data by sharing it with cities and counties so they can increase their efforts to protect consumers at the local level,” according to a news release from the CFPB about the new complaint-sharing initiative. “Engaging with local governments is a win-win for consumers and the CFPB. It helps protect as many consumers as possible from predatory lending, barriers to credit, and other consumer harms.”
The Government Portal will act as a secure interface for “local, state, and federal government agencies [to] access…more granular information about consumers’ complaints and companies’ responses.”
The Consumer Complaint Database will remain public facing for consumers to file complaints and businesses to respond to those items. That information will be loaded onto the Government Portal over time.
Unlike processes to develop the Consumer Complaint Database, the CFPB did not appear to seek stakeholder input on developing the Government Portal, which will affect the information shared about regulated entities, their complaint responses, and reports from consumers they work with.
The lack of stakeholder input is more in line with the bureau’s regulatory and policymaking activities in the last two years and, while the CFPB is increasing engagement with cities and counties, the creation of the Government Portal fails to do the same with regulated entities affected by use of the data.
Through the Government Portal, users will:
- See in real-time what consumers are experiencing in the financial marketplace and how companies are responding.
- Download complaints—including consumer- and company-provided documents—to investigate and enforce rules protecting consumers.
- Compare problems their constituents are facing to other localities and nationwide.
- Filter and export information to ensure targeted analysis by time period, company, geography and more.
- Securely refer individual complaints to the CFPB.
- Receive the list of companies responding to complaints through the CFPB’s process (last year, more than 3,400 companies responded to consumer complaints).
Local governments will also be able to directly submit constituents’ complaints and get responses from the companies.
“The complaint data can also help local government officials identify what gaps exist, and what fixes are needed—thereby helping them in their mission to foster increased consumer awareness and eventual empowerment,” according to the CFPB. “Additionally, cities and counties are best equipped to identify bad actors and enforce their own consumer protection laws to protect consumers.”
When the CFPB asked for feedback on developing the Consumer Complaint Database in 2018, it received nearly 26,000 comments from a variety of stakeholders. A Government Portal using that data should have a similar comment process.
The CFPB made several changes to its Consumer Complaint Database in line with ACA International’s advocacy on the issue, and even with the improvements, it left ACA and its members continuing to push for more clarity so the complaint database better reflects the positive impact of the accounts receivable management industry and its work with consumers.
ACA has urged the bureau to provide better contextualization of the number of complaints compared to the number of contacts and to do more work to weed out mere inquiries, compared to actual complaints or violations of law. The call for these changes without a response makes the Government Portal difficult data, though well intentioned, to rely on to accurately reflect consumers’ complaints and businesses’ responses.
ACA has also urged the bureau to seek feedback from all stakeholders on its advisory opinions and guidance, conduct the proper rulemaking processes and plans to continue engagement with the CFPB to resolve unintended compliance complexities associated with its recent reports and actions.
As it uses complaint data and extends that data to cities and counties, ACA also continues to advocate with the CFPB to ensure accurate data about the industry is documented in the complaint database used for its reports by providing context to the complaints. The bureau needs sound verification processes as well as accurate reporting that reflects the difference between consumer inquiries and actual allegations of harm.
ACA’s longstanding view on the Consumer Complaint Database is for, at a minimum, the bureau to develop and implement fair and transparent metrics to normalize the complaint data it makes publicly available on the database, narrow the definition of “complaint” so that it covers only alleged conduct that would be unlawful if true, and to consistently use prominent disclaimers that appropriately describe the limitations of published complaint data.
The same should hold true for the data transferred and added to the Government Portal.
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