CFPB’s Latest Bulletin Dissects Demographic Data and Financial Services and Products Complaints


4/29/2021 10:30 AM

The examination of county-level data presents new questions about complaint database accuracy.

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The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) issued a bulletin Wednesday analyzing complaints in counties nationwide.

The data is focused on demographics and location as well as the source of consumers’ complaints. The CFPB noted in the report its future complaint bulletins will include ZIP code and census information to analyze complaint demographics at a more granular level.

Currently, the CFPB does not collect race and ethnicity information during the complaint reporting process. Consumers provide their mailing address and have the option to provide their age and service member status.

For this analysis, the CFPB relies on county-level race and ethnicity information.

“In 2019 and 2020, the CFPB received more complaints on a per-capita basis from consumers living in predominantly minority counties than from consumers in predominantly white, non-Hispanic counties,” according to a news release on the report. “Consumers in counties with the highest percentage of minority population submitted complaints at over four times the rate compared to counties with the lowest percentage of minority population.”

ACA International has long disputed the accuracy of the CFPB’s complaint database. Given the CFPB’s broad definition of a complaint to include a consumer’s expression of mere “dissatisfaction,” coupled with the CFPB’s admission that it does not verify the substance of complaints for accuracy or even wrongdoing, the county-level data suffers from the same inaccuracies as the complaint database.

Additional findings in the report include:

  • In 2020, consumers living in predominately minority counties submitted more complaints on a per capita basis in nearly every product category about which the CFPB accepts complaints.
  • From 2019 to 2020, complaints increased at a greater rate in predominantly minority counties compared to predominantly white, non-Hispanic counties.
  • Credit or consumer reporting appears to cause significantly more issues for consumers in predominantly minority counties.

The CFPB claims in the report that, “Debt collection also appears to cause more issues for consumers in predominantly minority counties than in predominately white communities,” but then goes on to state that, “The most common debt collection complaint is about attempts to collect a debt that the consumer reports is not owed.”

It would seem that many of these “complaints” are likely more inquiries about a debt, rather than a claim of wrongdoing.

It appears the bureau will use this report as a starting point to expand its demographic data in connection with complaints about financial products and services.

“The bulletin analyzes complaints at the county level and describes the CFPB’s ongoing work to better understand the communities that submit complaints and how their problems vary,” the CFPB reports.

“Consumer complaints support and inform the CFPB’s work, and provide key insight into emerging trends in the financial marketplace,” CFPB Acting Director Dave Uejio said in a news release on the report. “Today’s report shows that while all people across the nation face financial hardships, a significantly higher rate of complaints come from ethnically diverse communities. The data raise concerns that deserve our further study and, as such, we’ll keep a spotlight on patterns or any abuses we see.”

ACA will continue to advocate for more transparency about the complaint database, as well as accurate reporting that reflects the difference between consumer inquiries and actual allegations of harm.

The CFPB reports it will grow its demographic data collection to include household size and income and give consumers the option to provide that information on its complaint form. The CFPB will also begin exploring what additional information it may need to help better understand the experiences of diverse communities that submit complaints.

ACA continues to advocate with the CFPB to ensure accurate data about the industry is documented in the database by providing context to the complaints and sound verification processes.

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