The CFPB’s Ombudsman’s Office has issued its fourth annual report covering the Office’s activities during fiscal year 2015 (October 1, 2014 through September 30, 2015).  The role of the Ombudsman’s Office is to assist in the resolution of individual and systemic issues that a depository entity, non-depository entity or consumer has with the CFPB.

The report’s “The Ombudsman in Practice” section provides examples of CFPB “process issues” that the Ombudsman shared with the CFPB in FY 2015.  Such issues included:

  • Concerns arising from complaints submitted online by third parties on behalf of multiple consumers
  • Need for normalization of data in the public consumer complaint data base (with the Ombudsman noting that the CFPB issued an RFI in June 2015 seeking “best practices” for normalization)
  • Difficulties experienced by companies in understanding language in the examination report template “regarding where the supervision and enforcement process intersect” (which the Ombudsman understands the CFPB is addressing in updated template language)
  • Concerns regarding the clarity of communications companies receive to join the CFPB’s company portal

The report includes a summary of feedback and recommendations the Ombudsman received from industry participants at a September 2015 forum, which were shared with the CFPB “without attribution,” and an analysis of individual inquiries, which included inquiries from industry on such topics as concerns about the options available for responding to consumer complaints.

In the section of the report dealing with the Ombudsman’s review of systemic issues, the Ombudsman discusses the three systemic issues it reviewed in FY 2015 and updates several issues raised in previous reviews.  The systemic issues reviewed in FY 2015 were the following:

  • In response to concerns shared by industry about perceived differences in language between consent orders and corresponding CFPB press releases, the Ombudsman reviewed consent orders and the corresponding press releases for the last quarter of FY 2014 and the first quarter of FY 2015.  While concluding that the press releases generally did reflect the language in the consent orders, the Ombudsman identified three issues that it shared with the CFPB.  Those issues were: press releases not reflecting that a company had ended a practice as indicated in the consent order or not reflecting other company information that was in the consent order; use of legal terminology in press releases that was not in the consent orders; and use of phrasing in consent orders that “resulted in certain factual elements seeming more important than they otherwise might, even if factually correct.”  The Ombudsman states that the CFPB has considered these issues in developing new press releases and that, upon reviewing more recent consent orders and corresponding press releases, it has found “a noticeable improvement from what we observed in the earlier time period.”
  • In response to feedback received over time from industry groups about the field hearing process, the Ombudsman reviewed the process and met with consumer and industry groups.  The CFPB shared feedback from these meetings with the CFPB which included the reluctance of some industry groups to have their members serve as panelists because the current format does not allow for constructive exchange.
  • In response to industry concerns about the consumer complaint process, the Ombudsman provided recommendations to the CFPB on various issues such as when a company should be able to treat multiple consumer complaints involving the same company, transaction and issue as duplicate complaints and the need for clarification regarding the distinction between administrative and substantive complaint responses and how the selection of a response determines if a complaint is published.  (Duplicative complaints was among the issues cited by a recent American Banker article for its claim that the CFPB’s consumer complaint database is widely held to be inaccurate and untrustworthy.)

The issues reviewed in prior reports for which the Ombudsman provides an update include how the CFPB shares information about its activities, events and services.  The report indicates that the CFPB is working towards or considering implementation of various recommendations made by the Ombudsman, such as creating the following: a single location for users to subscribe to all available CFPB online “sign-ups,” a digest of all updates to the CFPB’s website sortable by topic and date, an events calendar, a sign-up to receive CFPB event updates, an archive of old event announcements, and a webpage that provides information on how to request a CFPB speaker.