OMBUDSMAN (om'budz men), n. 1.  person chosen to hear grievances. 2. influential functionary empowered to investigate and to express conclusions. 3. derivation, Sweden.

CFPB (see eff pee bee), n. 1. One of the newest agencies of the United States of America charged with supervision and enforcement of federal consumer credit protection laws.

Last week, the CFPB's Ombudsman's Office released its 2015 Annual Report.  The report included a description of how the office works, including a new flowchart of what happens when aggrieved consumers contact the Ombudsman and what to expect when they do.  

The CFPB's Ombudsman, Wendy Kamenshine, is assigned the task of informally assisting in resolving “process issues” with the CFPB that are common among the various constituencies -- whether consumers, financial entities or state regulators.  The Ombudsman does not get involved in litigation matters or provide legal advice, nor make decisions or legal determinations for the CFPB.  One does not contact the Ombudsman to delay statutory, regulatory or other CFPB guidelines.

The Ombudsman may seek to resolve an issue by providing feedback and making recommendations to the Bureau, and she may facilitate discussions, brainstorm solutions, evaluate options, share analyses, offer an impartial perspective and “engage in shuttle diplomacy.”

In 2015, the CFPB's Ombudsman 

  • suggested updates to the communications Consumer Complaint Process,
  • identified issues with how the public interfaces with the CFPB,
  • offered feedback from an “inreach visit” to one of the CFPB's contact centers;
  • worked on issues with third-party consumer complaint submissions;
  • informed the Bureau and the public about multiple profile occurrences and the impact of the same;
  • suggested clarifying the distinction between the Bureau's supervision and enforcement processes; and
  • highlighted concerns regarding portal communications with those registered.

The Ombudsman received 1,166 individual inquires, of which 821 were from consumers. Fifty-three (53%) percent of the inquiries were questions rather than complaints.  Inquires or questions included administrative or technical concerns, customer service issues, information about the complaint process, critiques and process questions.

One initiative by the Office this year was to review press releases.  They were examined and compared by the Ombudsman to the consent orders that they described, after some trade groups and companies had complained.  The Ombudsman found that the releases generally do reflect the language in the consent orders.

Another initiative this year addressed the Ombudsman's observations on the CFPB's Field Hearings.

In another interesting section of the Annual Report, called “Systemic Reviews – updates on Previous Reviews,” the Ombudsman reported that the following reviews from 2013 and 2014 have all been “closed:”

  • CFPB public actions and redress: information sharing with consumers;
  • Perspectives on industry: how the CFPB learns about developments in industry; and
  • CFPB activiites, events, and services:  how the CFPB shares information.

The entire Annual Report to the Director for 2015 is available at http://www.consumerfinance.gov/blog/the-2015-annual-report-from-the-cfpb-ombudsmans-office/.  

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