This week the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) issued a Request for Information (RFI) regarding Consumer Complaints and Inquiries. This is the final RFI in the series that was announced in January to collect input on its enforcement, supervision, rulemaking, market monitoring, and education activities.

You can download the complete RFI here. The 90-day comment period is expected to close approximately July 16, 2018.

According to the RFI,

"The Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act (Dodd-Frank Act) requires the Bureau to establish a unit to “facilitate the centralized collection of, monitoring of, and response to consumer complaints regarding consumer financial products or services” and directs the Bureau to establish reasonable procedures to provide timely responses to consumer complaints and consumer inquiries. The Bureau defines consumer complaints as “submissions that express dissatisfaction with, or communicate suspicion of wrongful conduct by, an identifiable entity related to a consumer’s personal experience with a financial product or service.” To date, the Bureau has not published its definition of consumer inquiries; however, as an operational matter for the purposes of establishing reasonable procedures for providing timely responses to consumer inquiries and for the purposes of this request for information, the Bureau defines consumer inquiries as consumer requests for information—typically proffered by telephone—to its Office of Consumer Response about consumer financial products or services, the status of a complaint, an action taken by the Bureau, and often combinations thereof."

The following specific topics are suggested, but commenters are free to answer only some of them – or offer others.

Specific statutorily-permissible suggestions regarding how the Bureau currently allows consumers to submit complaints and inquiries, including:

  1. Should the Bureau require consumers to classify their submission affirmatively as a consumer complaint or inquiry prior to submission?
  2. How should the Bureau explain the difference between a consumer complaint and a consumer inquiry to consumers at the point of submission?
  3. Should the Bureau develop a process for companies to reclassify consumers’ submissions? If so, what criteria should the Bureau establish to help companies differentiate consumer complaints from consumer inquiries

Specific statutorily-permissible suggestions regarding the Bureau’s consumer complaint processes, including:

  1. The Bureau currently receives complaints via six channels: website, referral from Federal and State entities/agencies, telephone, mail, fax, and email. Should the Bureau add or discontinue any channels for accepting complaints?
  2. Consistent with the Dodd-Frank Act’s definition of “consumer,” the Bureau currently allows consumers to authorize someone else (e.g., lawyer, advocate, power of attorney) to submit complaints on their behalf. Should the Bureau expand, limit, or maintain the ability of authorized third parties to submit complaints?

Specific statutorily-permissible suggestions regarding the Bureau’s consumer inquiry processes, including:

  1. The Bureau currently accepts consumer inquiries via telephone and mail. Should the Bureau add or discontinue any channels for accepting inquiries?
  2. Should the Bureau develop web chat systems to support consumers’ submission of inquiries?
  3. Should the Bureau develop a process for companies to provide timely responses to consumer inquiries sent to them by the Bureau? If so, how should the Bureau balance its objective of providing timely and understandable information to consumers14 with its objective of reducing unwarranted regulatory burden on companies
  4. Should the Bureau publish data about consumer inquiries? If so, what types of data or analyses about consumer inquiries should be shared with the public?

The RFI notes that the Bureau previously issued an RFI seeking input regarding its public reporting practices of complaint information, and that, as relevant, all comments received in connection with that request will be considereed in connection with this request -- so commenters need not submit duplicate information.

On January 17, 2018 CFPB Acting Director Mick Mulvaney announced that he was issuing a "call for evidence" to ensure the Bureau is fulfilling its proper and appropriate functions to best protect consumers. Since then a series of requests has been released about activities including:

  1. Civil Investigative Demands (comment period closes April 26 -- extended from March 27)
  2. Administrative Adjudication (comment period closes May 7 -- extended from April 6)
  3. Enforcement (comment period closes May 14 -- extended from April 13)
  4. Supervision (comment period closes May 21)
  5. External Engagements (comment period closes May 29)
  6. Public Reporting Practices of Consumer Complaint Information (comment period closes June 4)
  7. Bureau Ruleamaking Process (comment period closes June 7)
  8. Adopted Regulations and New Rulemaking (comment period closes June 19)
  9. Inherited Regulations (comment period closes June 25)
  10. Guidance and Implementation Support (comment period closes July 2)
  11. Consumer Financial Education Programs (comment period closes July 9)

insideARM Perspective

It is notable that the CFPB makes a distinction between complaints and inquiries as it relates to its own process. The ARM industry has long argued that all communications from consumers regarding debt collection are "complaints," when many of them are actually inquiries -- such as clarifications or questions about process -- rather than an accusation of wrongdoing or potential law violation.

Debt collectors have also complained that they often do not receive enough information from the CFPB complaint portal to investigate each matter. For instance, the name and/or account number provided by the consumer does not match any individual in their system. Or a phone number provided does not match any phone number they have a record of having dialed.

This is an important time for the ARM industry, from creditors to collection agencies, debt buyers, attorneys and service/technology providers. There has probably not been such an opportunity in decades for your voice to be heard and to make an impact. insideARM suggests one thing overall -- get involved.



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