The CFPB’s announcement last Thursday that it had expanded its public Consumer Complaint Database to include complaints about products other than credit cards was accompanied by the release of four items.

One item was a breakdown of the more than 90,000 complaints about credit cards, mortgages, bank deposit products and services, student loans, and other consumer loans (which category includes complaints about auto loans and leases) that are now in the database.

The CFPB also issued a final Disclosure of Consumer Complaint Data Policy Statement, a Consumer Response Annual Report, and a Snapshot of Complaints Received.  Our legal alert contains links to and summaries of these four new items.

While it is hard to quibble with the CFPB about its goal of educating consumers about banks and other companies who ride roughshod over the rights of consumers, the expanded Consumer Complaint Database does not fulfill that goal because, among other things, none of the complaints on the database have been or will be verified.  Thus, the data will be improperly used by some as a litmus test for identifying scofflaws.  Just because a consumer filed a complaint with the CFPB does not mean that the complaint has any merit.  Indeed, just because a company has provided monetary or other relief to a consumer does not mean that the complaint has any merit.  Very often, companies will provide relief to consumers only to preserve customer goodwill.  Also, the largest banks will, of course, have the highest number of complaints.  Without consumers having information about the number of customers of the bank that obtained the product in question, the numbers are meaningless.

I am also troubled by the fact that the database applies only to banks and non-banks that are subject to CFPB jurisdiction.  Thus, the database does not cover banks having less than $10 billion in assets.  Those depository institutions are supervised by another prudential federal banking agency.  None of those agencies has created a similar complaint database that is accessible to the public.  Where is the level playing field?

I’m also concerned about how the database may be improperly used by a company to cause harm to a competitor or by plaintiffs’ attorneys trolling for lawsuits.

That being said, it would be foolish for banks and other companies to ignore the database.  The CFPB has repeatedly stated that it will consider complaints as a basis for deciding who to examine and/or investigate.  Thus, the CFPB announcement last week is an important reminder for banks and other companies to redouble their efforts to create robust systems for handling complaints.