With the CFPB under new leadership, the future of the public complaint database is in jeopardy.
Since 2011, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s consumer complaint database has been a place to register and track complaints against various financial companies, banks, debt collectors, and more. But due to new leadership in the CFPB, it is unclear how much longer the public database will be around according to the Student Loan Report.
The CFPB is a watchdog agency and was set up in the wake of the financial crisis of 2008. The agency’s public complaint database was designed to hold companies accountable. For instance, the CFPB took action against Wells Fargo for unfair penalties and student loan servicing practices.
Over one million complaints have been filed with the CFPB to date, and regulators use this data when deciding whether to investigate financial companies. In 2017, consumers filed 17,175 complaints about student loans with the CFPB, The Student Loan Report found.
These complaints are taken online or by mail, verified, and then the company in question is given 15 days to respond. After the 15-day period is up, the details of the grievance are posted on the CFPB’s website.
The agency is currently run by acting director Mick Mulvaney, a long-time critic of the CFPB. Mulvaney was appointed acting director in November after former director Richard Cordray resigned.
As a member of Congress, Mulvaney sponsored legislation to get rid of the organization entirely, NPR reported. And at the American Bankers Association conference, Mulvaney expressed his dislike of the consumer complaint database, saying, “I don’t see anything that says I have to run a Yelp for financial services sponsored by the federal government.”
The financial industry has also taken issue with the database. Debt collection agencies are bound to pick up some unhappy customers, and there is no room for the context of the complaints. They have argued that the database allows consumers to post things that may not be true, thus bringing "unreliable and misleading information into the market."
Kim Gustafson, an executive at Fortis Private Bank in Denver, told NPR most of the database complaints are representative of people’s feelings, “without any substantiated facts or actual complaints around a specific issue."
However, the CFPB does allow companies to determine whether the complaint was issued by an actual customer. They can also respond with a written response before the information is posted online.
Consumer groups are concerned about the possibility of the complaint database being shut down. They argue that denying public access to the database panders to financial companies.
Karl Frisch, executive director of Allied Progress, told NPR that all Americans have a right to access that information. "The CFPB received tens of thousands of complaints about Wells Fargo and that issue is now being resolved," he said.
Consumers have until June 4 to submit comments to the CFPB on consumer complaint reporting, according to the Office of the Federal Register. These comments will be used to help guide the future direction of the agency.