Should our company sign up to use an online company portal to view consumer complaints about us submitted to the CFPB?  That’s the question we are being asked by clients who have been contacted by a CFPB representative requesting that they register to view complaints.  Once registered, the CFPB makes available a company portal to which it will forward the complaints and which the company can log into to review the complaints and respond to the CFPB as to how they were handled.  

Under the Dodd-Frank Act, only large banks are required to respond to the CFPB about how they have handled consumer complaints.  However, by registering with the CFPB to access complaints, a company assumes an obligation to follow the CFPB’s procedures set forth in the “Company portal manual.”  Those procedures include the CFPB’s requirement that all company portal users provide the CFPB with a response to each complaint within 15 days of when the company received the complaint in the portal.  A response must include the steps taken to resolve the complaint with the consumer.  Within the 15 days, a company can request up to an additional 45 days to provide a response.  However, complaints for which a company has not responded within 30 days of receipt (or 60 days if additional time was requested) will be tagged for CFPB review and investigation.  The manual states that regular reports are provided to the CFPB Offices of Supervision and Enforcement about complaints for which companies have failed to provide “a timely response.” 

The CFPB has made clear that it will use complaints  in deciding which nonbank companies to examine (meaning payday lenders, mortgage originators, private student lenders or other nonbanks as to which the CFPB has supervisory authority).  By not registering to access complaints, a company is missing the opportunity to demonstrate that it is responsive to complaints and, as such, not in need of examination.  Reviewing complaints will also give a company insight into the issues on which the CFPB may focus if the company is examined and an opportunity to be better positioned for the examination. 

The CFPB also uses complaints to decide which companies will be targets for enforcement actions. By demonstrating that it is responsive to complaints, a company may be able to forestall enforcement action or mitigate any penalties if an enforcement action is begun.  Finally, the CFPB plans to use complaints in deciding which companies will be targets for supervision using the CFPB’s risk-based supervisory authority.  Being responsive to complaints could help a company that is not already subject to CFPB supervision (such as an auto title lender) avoid becoming a supervision target. 

What’s the bottom line?  A company that registers will need to devote the resources necessary for reviewing the complaints and providing timely responses to the CFPB.  However, we think those costs are easily outweighed by the potential benefits.  On balance, we think registration is a good idea.