The American Bankers Association has sent a second comment letter to the CFPB in which it recommends that the Office of Management and Budget not approve the CFPB’s proposed debt collection survey.  The CFPB initially announced its plans to conduct the survey in a Federal Register notice published on March 7, 2014 and set a May 6, 2014 deadline for comments.  In a notice published in July 2014, the CFPB announced that it would continue to take comments until August 22, 2014.

In the ABA’s initial comment letter, which was sent jointly with the Consumer Bankers Association, the ABA applauded the CFPB’s collection of information regarding actual consumer experiences with the debt collection industry, but expressed concern that as currently formatted, the survey would likely fall short of producing reliable and representative data that can be used to inform any related rulemakings or other agency actions. 

In its new letter, the ABA comments that the CFPB’s revised survey submitted for OMB approval “only perfunctorily responds to stakeholder comments and reflects very little change to the Survey instrument.  It fails to resolve material design and methodological shortcomings necessary to ensure that the data generated by the Survey will have practical utility for the debt collection rulemaking.”

 The ABA is concerned that the revised survey still does not differentiate between consumer experiences with first-party creditors and third-party collectors.  In its initial comment letter, the ABA suggested that the survey should be administered exclusively online. In the new comment letter, the ABA calls the CFPB’s plan to provide an online option as a way of responding to the ABA’s suggestion an “illusory change” that “demonstrates [the CFPB’s] indifference to stakeholder feedback.” 

Finally, the ABA comments that the revised survey “does not reflect a commitment to transparency, public participation, and collaboration.”  It observes that the CFPB has not made a commitment to sharing survey results with stakeholders or adequately addressed the risk of response bias described in the ABA’s initial letter. 

The ABA’s new letter includes the following pointed statement: 

Given the Bureau’s track record of manipulating the public release of research rather than pursuing a peer review process, these methodological shortcomings risk being overwhelmed by the agency’s spin at time of publication.  As a consequence, the impact of potential sources of error very likely will be under-disclosed and under-reported.

 We hope the CFPB will revisit the survey in light of the legitimate concerns raised by the ABA.