The Power of Complaints: An Opportunity to Strengthen the Consumer’s Voice

The Power of Complaints: An Opportunity to Strengthen the Consumer’s Voice

Virtually every American adult uses at least one, and usually several, financial products. These include credit cards, pre-paid cards, bank accounts, credit reporting, mortgages, loans, and money transfers.


When problems occur, the consequences can be severe: for example, the inability to obtain credit; difficulty getting a mortgage; and being hounded by debt collectors for someone else’s debt.


In 2011, a new federal agency was launched, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), with an important mission – regulating financial products and services. The CFPB invites complaints via its website, which has been carefully designed for ease of use. It also engages in consumer financial education.


In the past three years, it has received more than 400,000 complaints. Complaints about specific financial products and services are forwarded to the appropriate companies for their response and, when warranted, resolution.


The CFPB has brought its complaint process into the sunlight by posting on its website the nature of those complaints and their status in the resolution process.  Anyone with Internet access can visit to both submit their own complaints and view the bare bones details of many thousands more.


A typical database entry looks like this:

Code # / “Debt collection” / “Auto” / ”Improper contact or sharing information” / ZIPcode of complainant / Date received / Date sent to company / Name of company / Status, e.g. “in progress” / Timely response Y-N


Now the CFPB proposes to add meat to those bones by adding consumers’ complaint descriptions – called narratives – to the website.  The disclosure of narratives would require affirmative consent by the individual (opt in).


The PRC’s Executive Director Beth Givens participated in a CFPB Field Hearing on July 17th in El Paso, TX, to discuss this proposal. She joined a small chorus of consumer and industry representatives who spoke in favor of adding narratives to the CFPB website. Givens emphasized the importance of ensuring that narratives do not reveal the sensitive personal information of complainants and company representatives. She urged the CFPB to establish policies and procedures to protect personal privacy.


The CFPB has invited public comment about this proposal in the Federal Register

You can weigh in on this matter by submitting your own comments, due by September 22, 2014.