Despite loud industry objections and apparent impracticalities, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) has moved ahead with its plan to allow consumers submitting to its Consumer Complaint Database to go public with narrative descriptions of their complaints. On March 19, the Bureau announced the change and encouraged consumers to “lift their voices” into a potentially cacophonous chorus that could pose significant reputational challenges for consumer financial services companies.
The new policy followed consideration of 137 unique public comments, according to the Bureau’s Final Policy Statement on Disclosure of Consumer Complaint Narrative Data. Industry trade associations and companies widely opposed the change. Commenters pointed out, among other things, that the narratives would be unverified even though they posed great potential reputational risk, and that there was no practical way for companies to respond to narrative complaints with a narrative response because laws like the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act and Regulation P, the Fair Credit Reporting Act and Regulation V, and the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act severely limit what companies can say publicly about individual consumers.
The Bureau’s response to these concerns? In short: tough cookies. The Consumer Complaint Database website specifically states that the Bureau does not “verify the accuracy of all facts alleged in complaints.” That will continue to be the case with the newly permitted narratives. The Bureau says its limited verification protocol, which includes confirming that there is a commercial relationship between the consumer and the company identified, and that the complaint is submitted by the identified consumer or his or her authorized representative, is enough to keep complaints honest. And although the Bureau acknowledges that “unstructured company narratives may not effectively provide companies with a mechanism to balance a consumer’s narrative,” it thinks it can solve that problem by permitting companies to choose from “a finite list of optional structured responses” to each complaint. It has not said what those “optional structured responses” will be.
Lest you think the CFPB is approaching this issue rather one-sidedly, it also issued a Request for Information seeking input on the potential collection of “consumer compliments,” i.e., information on positive interactions with financial service providers.