The CFPB has announced a number of “enhancements” to its consumer complaint database.  In March 2018, the CFPB issued a request for information seeking comment on potential changes to its practices for the public reporting of consumer complaint information.  (The RFI was one of twelve RFIs issued under former Acting Director Mulvaney’s leadership that sought information on various topics.)  The CFPB indicated that it received nearly 26,000 comments in response to the RFI and is making the enhancements based on its review of those comments.

During his tenure as Acting Director, Mr. Mulvaney criticized the Bureau’s public disclosure of consumer complaint data and suggested that public disclosure be discontinued.  That suggestion produced strong criticism from Democratic lawmakers and now appears to have been abandoned by the Bureau.  In its announcement, the CFPB indicates that “it will continue the publication of consumer complaints, data fields and narrative descriptions through the Bureau’s Consumer Complaint Database.

A primary concern of industry with the Bureau’s disclosure of unverified complaint data (and one which we often noted) was that because complaints are often invalid, they do not serve as reliable evidence that the complained about conduct occurred.  The CFPB indicates in the announcement that it plans to provide “modified disclaimers to provide better context to the published data.”  However, the only specific example given is that the Bureau’s website will “more prominently display disclosures making it clear that the Consumer Complaint Database is not a statistical sample of consumers’ experiences in the marketplace.”

The other enhancements described in the Bureau’s announcement are its plans to:

  • Highlight the availability of answers to common financial questions for consumers to help inform them before they submit a complaint; and
  • Highlight consumers’ ability to contact the financial company directly to get answers to their specific questions.
  • Build and launch dynamic visualization tools including geospatial and trend views based on recent complaint data to help users of the database understand current and recent marketplace conditions
  • Emphasize features for aggregation and analysis while continuing to make all the underlying data available for analysis
  • Explore expansion of a company’s ability to respond publically to individual complaints listed in the database
  • Continue to explore ways to put the complaint data in context of other data, such as by incorporating product or service market share and company size

Overall, we view the Bureau’s announcement as a positive development.