The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is breaking up its searchable, online consumer complaint database by state allowing onlookers to better drill down into the data.
The federal agency said the update also includes new information about money transfer and credit reporting complaints a revision the CFPB alluded to in April when it said it had begun taking complaints on money transfers from people who did not receive their cash on time or in the correct amount.
The new changes took effect Friday.
"This data puts valuable information in the hands of consumers to help them understand what is happening in their states," said CFPB Director Richard Cordray in a press release. "And by adding credit reporting and money transfer complaints to the Consumer Complaint Database, we are making these important markets more transparent and accountable to all consumers."
The database was mandated under the Dodd-Frank Act. It beta-launched in June 2012, initially only showing complaints for credit cards.
In March, the agency said, the database expanded from roughly 19,000 credit card complaints to about 90,000 complaints on various account types, such as mortgages, student loans and bank accounts.
Today, the database contains about 113,000 complaints.
Still, the database does yield some positive results for the industry as a whole, says Brian Riley, a senior research director in the retail banking and payments practice at CEB TowerGroup.
He points out that the number of complaints is only a small fraction of the annual 16 million disputed credit and debit card transactions.
"The industry is handling it well in that consumers will naturally have to dispute transactions whether it's for faulty goods or for billing errors. There is a process here that works pretty well," he said. "These [complaints] are at the bottom of the bottom of the bottom."
There is no doubt that the database is very workable and does provide a lot of analysis, he says. How many consumers will dive into these complaints is anybody's guess.
Not everyone is convinced, however, that the CFPB's complaint initiative will have a positive impact on either the financial services industry or the average consumer.
"If the CFPB is a service organization, I have to give them mixed grades in providing usable and action-ready information at this stage (and information that is not action-ready will not beget productive change in the financial services industry)," says Jim Van Dyke, president and founder of Javelin Strategy & Research. "Despite the announcement inviting the public to append the complaint data with information of their own, why would the army of CFPB staffers not take on the primary responsibility of simply sorting the data by, for example, FDIC data on assets of banks?"
He adds that, as shown, the CFPB data will do little to create positive change until it's integrated with data from other federal agencies.
"Consumers and industry in the U.S. need Federal agencies to coordinate better, in order to realize the noble goals the CFPB set for our vital industry," Van Dyke says.