The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) Wednesday announced that it is proposing to expand its consumer complaints public database to include the consumer’s narrative description of what happened, along with a company response narrative. The announcement came on the three-year anniversary of the CFPB’s launch.
When consumers submit a complaint to the CFPB, they fill in information such as who they are, who the complaint is against, when it occurred, and what issues were relevant based on a preset list of options. But they are also given a text box to describe what happened and can attach documents to the complaint. When the Bureau forwards the complaint to the company, the narrative text and documents (if any) are provided.
But that narrative text does not appear in the CFPB’s public complaints database. Under Wednesday’s proposal, that would change.
The CFPB said, “In many ways, the narratives are the most insightful part of a complaint. They provide a first-hand account of the consumer’s experience and the problem they would like resolved.” The agency said that by publishing the narratives, it would “greatly enhance the utility of the [complaints] database” by adding context to the complaints.
For example, the CFPB noted, providing the complaint narratives within the mortgage category of “loan modification, collection, foreclosure,” would help determine if the consumer is being charged extra fees, the servicer has lost paperwork, or any number of other specific problems. Describing the circumstances can provide vital information about why the consumer believes they were harmed.
The official proposal notes that the CFPB would publish the complaints only if consumers proactively opt for their narrative to be shared. When consumers submit a complaint through the CFPB’s complaint portal, they would have to affirmatively check a consent box to give the Bureau permission to publish their narrative.
The Bureau also noted that it would take “all reasonable steps” to remove any personal information consumers provide within the narrative.
The CFPB is also proposing that companies’ responses be made public, should they choose. Companies would be given the opportunity to post a written response that would appear next to the consumer’s story. In most cases, this response would appear at the same time as the consumer’s narrative so that reviewers can see both sides concurrently. This response would also be scrubbed of personal information.
The proposal is open for public comment for a period of 30 days beginning from when the policy statement is published in the Federal Register. Comments can be filed at Regulations.gov under docket number CFPB-2014-0016.