Banks Fight Back Against CFPB Complaint Database
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The Fiscal Times
August 18, 2014

Faced with plans by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to create an online forum in which consumers can anonymously share their stories of bad interactions with banks and other financial services firms, the industry is pushing back with a web-based effort of its own. 

The Financial Services Roundtable, a trade group that represents banks, insurance companies, credit card issuers and other financial services firms, has launched the website CFPBRumors.com, aiming to highlight what it says are dangerous elements of the agency’s plan.

Related: Federal Consumer Site Will Post Unverified Complaints about Banks

CFPB currently collects customer complaints and publishes the results online. However, the agency is now moving to include the “narrative” portion of complaints – that is, customers’ explanations of what happened and why.

“Our members are concerned about it, principally because of the concern about potential consumer confusion. It’s one side of the story,” said Anne Wallace, senior director consumer financial services at the Roundtable.

CFPB has said that when it begins releasing the consumer narratives, it will give institutions an opportunity to respond to the complaints. However, said Wallace, constraints on what a financial services firm can disclose about a particular customer will limit the ability to address complaints.

“It really doesn’t help,” said Wallace. “All your transactions with your financial institutions are confidential. A financial institution would be hard-pressed to say anything other than ‘Thank you for your comment.’”

Related: Taxpayers Eat $120 Million Over Budget for CFPB

If someone complained about a late fee, for instance, a credit card company would not be allowed to explain that the fee was levied because the consumer was 60 days behind on payments.

Wallace also said the industry is also worried about the government giving anonymous complainants added credibility.

“We’ve all used social media sites, places where people rate hotels and airlines,” she said. “You read that with a certain grain of salt. But if you read something on a government website, you think it’s going to be true. It [would seem to have] greater credibility than a private social media site.” 

The CFPB says that the plan to release narratives is part of its “efforts to put the voice of the consumer more directly and centrally into the everyday processes of financial institutions.” The agency has put the proposal out for public comment.

The comment period was supposed to expire on August 22 – but due to a large response, it’s been extended to September 22.

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A longtime reporter on the intersection of the federal government and the private sector, Rob Garver is National Correspondent, based in Washington, D.C. He has written for ProPublica, The New York Times and other publications.