The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau issued a request for information Thursday on the bureau’s public reporting of consumer complaints, which has long vexed the financial services industry.

The CFPB is required by statute to collect, investigate and respond to consumer complaints.

The bureau's consumer complaint portal initially included only the name of an institution and the product targeted in the complaint. But the CFPB finalized a policy in 2015 that allowed consumers to publicize a "narrative" of their experiences.

Mick Mulvaney, director of the Office of Management and Budget and acting-director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
The move suggests an intent by the CFPB under Mulvaney's leadership to tailor the complaint database more to the industry's liking. Bloomberg News

Companies have complained that the portal includes unverified consumer complaints that are not vetted for accuracy by the agency, exposing companies to reputational harm and potential liability. Indeed, the database drew criticism over errors. In one instance, a single complaint was counted as 35 different complaints, American Banker found in 2015.

The agency will accept comments on the database for 90 days as part of acting CFPB Director Mick Mulvaney's "call for evidence," a public review announced in January to examine all of the bureau's processes, including civil investigative demands, enforcement processes and supervision.

The request for comment on consumer complaints is the sixth in the series of 12 information requests overall. The move suggests an intent by the CFPB under Mulvaney's leadership to tailor the complaint database more to the industry's liking. The request asked for specific suggestions and examples of best practices to "ensure that markets for consumer financial products and services operate transparently and efficiently to facilitate access and innovation."

The CFPB is also asking whether it is beneficial or harmful for the bureau to publish the names of "the most complained-about companies," as well as whether the agency should notify the companies of their inclusion prior to publication "and invite company comment."

The CFPB also wants feedback on whether the bureau should "supplement observations from consumer complaints with observations of company responses to complaints," and on how much information should be shared on particular products and services.

The bureau specifically asked about how it could improve its reporting methodology and whether it should expand, maintain or limit access to complaint information that is now available to financial institutions and the public.

The CFPB said it wants comments to include legal citations and statutorily permissible suggestions including "whether the bureau should include more, less or the same amount of reporting on state and local complaint trends."

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