WASHINGTON — The Financial Services Roundtable is launching an advertising campaign accusing the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau of potentially spreading misinformation through the agency's online complaint database.
The CFPB proposed a plan last month to expand its complaint portal to allow consumers to share a "narrative" of specific disputes with financial institutions. But the industry immediately criticized the move, saying it could result in the publication of unsubstantiated claims against banks.
The Roundtable on Monday said it will target the CFPB's portal with advertisements posted in Washington, D.C. subway stations and a social media campaign that are meant to highlight "the problems that the CFPB's rushed plan poses to consumers."
The trade group said the agency's plan would provide companies named in a complaint "little opportunity to respond."
"The CFPB's plan will feature only one side of the story, and such one-sided accounts will not advance the CFPB's mission of better informing and helping consumers," Tim Pawlenty, the Roundtable's president and chief executive officer, said in the release.
The Roundtable has launched a website, CFPBRumors.com, featuring graphics meant to question the reliability of information posted on the complaint portal. One graphic posted on the site is titled "How a Government Agency Spreads a Rumor."
"Posting complaints anonymously bars businesses from substantively responding to the complaints — this is key to spreading rumors," the site says.
But the CFPB has argued that allowing consumers to post narratives of a dispute is empowering for those who feel they have been treated unfairly. Personal information, however, is removed to protect consumers' identities.
The agency says it takes steps to verify that a person lodging a complaint has an account at the named institution. It also seeks to prevent misinformation by not including complaints in the database until 15 days after it is filed with the agency or until the company responds, whichever comes first. (Based on feedback, the CFPB said it will extend the comment period on the proposed policy by a month to Sept. 22.)
"Before the CFPB began accepting complaints, many consumers had nowhere to turn to receive a timely response from their financial services provider," a CFPB spokesman said in an email to American Banker. "For many consumers, an explanation from their lender or service provider offers helpful insight or clarity."
Under the proposal, "the CFPB would only publish a consumer's complaint narrative if the consumer provided their informed consent to do so, which they could withdraw at any time," the spokesman added. "Companies would be able to publish their own response, which would appear next to the consumer's complaint narrative."