The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau recently announced a change in the way financial institutions, service providers, and others can obtain informal guidance on regulatory issues from the CFPB’s staff. It appears that the only change is the access vehicle to use when posing questions.

In the past, the CFPB preferred that questions be posed via email to CFPB_reginquiries@cfpb.gov. Now persons wanting answers to regulatory questions can use a new online form (https://reginquiries.consumerfinance.gov/). The new form provides a dropdown menu that allows the user to choose from the proverbial alphabet soup of regulations, along with an “Other” box. Users also can specify a particular statutory code section. However, the box provided for the user to pose the question has limited formatting options. As just one example, there is apparently no way to upload an attachment, which of course was an option when questions were sent via email. It remains to be seen whether the new formatting limits will make it more difficult to seek and obtain confirmation of an interpretation.

Other elements of the prior system seem to be unchanged. Responses to questions will still take time. The CFPB estimates an average of 10 to 15 business days, but acknowledges that longer time frames might be expected, depending on the volume of questions, the amount of time needed to research the question, and staff availability. Presumably a longer response time might also be expected if the question poses policy issues that CFPB staff must discuss and resolve prior to responding. Also unchanged is the CFPB’s position that responses will not constitute official CFPB interpretations and “are not a substitute for formal legal counsel or other compliance advice.” The CFPB notes, for example, that it will not moderate disputes, provide guidance on matters under examination or investigation, answer questions about specific business plans, or provide guidance on laws that are not under the CFPB’s authority.

While it appears the CFPB is attempting to improve its process for fielding questions concerning regulatory issues, it remains to be seen if this is truly an improvement for the public, or merely a way to simplify the process for the CFPB.