The CFPB’s Ombudsman’s Office has issued its sixth annual report covering the Office’s activities during fiscal year 2017 (October 1, 2016 through September 30, 2017). 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 “Demonstrating the Ombudsman in Practice” section provides examples of the Ombudsman’s role in assisting in the resolution of CFPB “process issues.” Noteworthy examples included:
- Engaging in “shuttle diplomacy” to resolve inquiries from industry that sought clarification of information communicated by the CFPB. The Ombudsman engaged in “shuttle diplomacy” between industry and the relevant CFPB officers to try to assist in resolving the issue.
- Suggesting updates to the letters used by the CFPB’s Office of Consumer Response when inviting companies to join the CFPB’s Company Portal for responding to consumer complaints. The updates were intended to address feedback that the Ombudsman received from companies indicating that more clarity was needed about the process for joining the Portal and what companies should consider in deciding whether to participate in the consumer complaint process.
The report includes a summary of feedback and recommendations the Ombudsman received from compliance officers who participated in a June 2017 forum and from representatives and members of associations of state regulators who participated in a September 2017 forum. It also discusses the first “Ombudsman Interactive,” a new initiative involving facilitated discussion sessions held onsite for attendees at consumer, trade and other groups’ conferences. These sessions are available by request on a first-come first-served basis, subject to the Ombudsman’s budget and availability.
In the section of the report dealing with the Ombudsman’s review of systemic issues, the Ombudsman discusses the two systemic issues it reviewed in FY 2017 and updates two issues raised in previous reviews. The systemic issues reviewed in FY 2017 were the following:
- In response to comments from consumer groups that they were experiencing long waits in obtaining CFPB educational materials in Braille and large print, the Ombudsman conducted research and reviewed existing CFPB processes for providing such materials. Stemming from meetings facilitated by the Ombudsman, the CFPB added language to the accessibility page of its website to inform the public how to obtain such materials and designated a central location to standardize the receipt and processing of accessibility requests.
- In response to concerns that changes made by the CFPB to its telephone system had resulted in some non-consumers not knowing how to obtain by phone CFPB information unrelated to individual consumer finance questions or matters, the Ombudsman conducted a study that included a review of the CFPB’s telephone entry points for non-consumers and the information available to non-consumers by phone, such as recorded information provided to callers. In the report, the Ombudsman’s Office discusses its findings and recommendations to the CFPB for addressing this issue.
The issues reviewed in prior reports for which the Ombudsman provided updates were the following:
- In its 2016 report, the Ombudsman recommended that the CFPB standardize its process for memorializing ex parte communications regarding proposed rules. In April 2017, the CFPB adopted changes to its “Policy on Ex Parte Presentations in Rulemaking Proceedings,” which are discussed in the Ombudsman’s 2017 report. As the Ombudsman notes, under the new policy persons submitting ex parte presentation materials are only required to submit the materials electronically to the CFPB, which will post them on the public rulemaking docket at www.regulations.gov. The policy had previously required persons submitting such materials to also file them directly with the public rulemaking docket.
- In its 2016 report, in response to comments about the specificity of options available to consumers to identify the issue with a company when submitting complaints, the Ombudsman provided feedback to Consumer Response regarding the need for additional sub-issues for some products and shared concerns about the varying number and specificity of issue/sub-issue options provided to consumers depending on the product involved in the complaint. In April 2017, the CFPB updated its consumer complaint form to add issues and sub-issues, as relevant, for all products other than mortgages. In response to the Ombudsman’s recommendation that the CFPB explain why further options should not be provided for mortgages, the CFPB indicated that consumers were not asked to select a sub-issue because of “the complexity and interrelated nature of mortgages and mortgage issues.” According to the CFPB, “this ensures the reliability of mortgage complaint data that we collect from consumers and share in reports through the Consumer Complaint Database.”