In the face of protest from the industry, a database of consumer complaints against banking and financial services companies has been published by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. The database includes over 7,000 detailed complaints, written by consumers.
This is not the first time the CFPB, which has attracted legions of young and tech-savvy employees since its establishment in 2011, has launched an easy-to-use (by federal government standards) database of consumer complaints.
The complaints build on a database already published by the CFPB already includes records of over 400,000 anonymized individual complaints received by the regulator, although it is light on detail. The new complaints take the form of "narratives" written by consumers, offering more specifics on what allegedly took place in each incident.
In a recent speech, Richard Cordray, the head of the CFPB, said the existing complaint collection has allowed the bureau to help people "secure millions of dollars in monetary relief and further satisfaction in the form of non-monetary relief, such as cleaning up their credit reports or fending off errant or harassing debt collectors, which can have ripple effects on people's financial well-being as well as their peace of mind."
After the CFPB proposed to make the narrative complaints public, it faced a strong and immediate backlash from the financial services industry.
"Publishing narratives of every unverified complaint will give only the illusion of disclosure," the head of the Consumer Bankers Association, Richard Hunt, said in a statement last year when the policy was first proposed. "This action will ultimately add to consumer confusion, harm industry reputations, and undermine any hope the CFPB may have to be viewed as a fair and honest broker."
The complaints do not look good for the financial institutions and offer a view into how consumers — at least those who complain — can feel confused and victimized by their interactions with banks and other financial companies. Companies can submit a response that will be included in the database.
As a regulator still in its infancy — it was founded in 2011 — the CFPB has often come under fire from lawmakers and industry, while also needing to build up awareness of its existence among the general public.
Publication of complaints is one avenue to increase public awareness, and the bureau even made a video of one complaint with the aim of spreading the message further. In the video, which it shared with BuzzFeed News, a doctor named Navid talks about a mortgage company asking for a $12,000 contingency fee when he tried to buy a home.
The loan was turned down "a few days prior to closing," and Navid says he lost the $12,000 and hadn't been able to get in touch with the lender despite many calls and emails. He then submitted a complaint to the CFPB after seeing a Daily Show appearance by Cordray, its director.
A few days later, he received an apology letter and a $12,000 check from the mortgage company, along with reimbursement for an inspection and appraisal. "This is why I chose this country, this is why this country is the best place to live on earth," Navid said after his experience with the bureau.
One complaint included in the database covers a customer's dispute over a checking account. The customer, who lives in California, says that she had her identity stolen and yet was still "harassed" by collection agencies over what the bank said she owed.
"If they use a little common sense, that would be the first indication that it is a fraudulent account or at least give me a chance to hear me out and take my complaint seriously," the customer said. "It has been extremely frustrating since they seem extremely unprofessional in the way they are going about this issue."