The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) recently released information that makes it easier for the public to detect worrisome practices in financial services and assess whether financial institutions are adequately serving consumers.
The CFPB’s database is the largest public database of federal consumer financial complaints, providing information on over 90,000 complaints regarding particular financial institutions or financial products. The database enables the public to see what types of products consumer complained about and how particular financial institutions responded. Products about which CFPB is currently collecting data include mortgages, student loans, credit cards, and other consumer loans. The database allows users to search, sort, and download information to conduct their own analysis, create visuals or reports, or embed on a different website. The database is updated on a daily basis and information is added after an institution has responded to a complaint or after it has had the complaint for at least 15 days.
Spencer Cowan, Vice President of Research at Woodstock Institute, testified in favor of the database at a CFPB hearing in Des Moines, Iowa, on March 28. “The CFPB consumer complaint database is necessary and should be made public in as much detail as possible [without disclosing personally identifiable information]. It allows the CFPB to determine exactly what the nature of the problem is, and to gauge its own performance,” Cowan said.
We commend the CFPB for this wonderful first step towards a more transparent, consumer friendly system. As the CFPB develops the database, we hope that the information available is made more complete by including the race, ethnicity, gender, and age of persons filing complaints. This would allow the public to detect potential violations of fair lending laws. We also support the aggregation of data at the smallest geography possible while still protecting the privacy of the consumer – ideally at the census tract level, just like Home Mortgage Disclosure Act data. The availability of this data at a granular level “allows the public to do additional analysis, to look at issues and the data in ways that perhaps the agency is not doing,” commented Cowan.
Going forward, Woodstock will be using the database to analyze particular products or institutions. The availability of the above-mentioned information would allow for even deeper analysis and enable the public to look at whether particular demographic groups are being more adversely affected than others. We congratulate the CFPB on launching the database and hope that it will go even further in providing useful information to consumer advocates and the general public.