Subscribe to our InfoBytes Blog weekly newsletter and other publications for news affecting the financial services industry.
Today, the CFPB expanded its consumer complaint database, publishing for the first time over 7,700 consumer narratives which provide descriptive details of issues consumers face with respect to mortgages, bank accounts, credit cards, and debt collection, among other topics. As previously covered in InfoBytes, the Bureau finalized its Policy earlier this year requiring consumers who file complaints to “opt-in” to have the actual narrative of the complaint disclosed in the CFPB consumer complaint database. In addition, the Bureau issued a Request For Information seeking feedback on how complaint information contained within the database can be more easily identified and “normalized.” The Bureau also announced that it had received more than 627,000 complaints as of June 1, with mortgages and debt collection among the most frequent sources of complaints.
On April 27, the CFPB published a report regarding the trend of recent complaints submitted to the Bureau by Servicemembers entitled, A Snapshot of Complaints Received from Servicemembers, Veterans, and their Families. According to the report, between July 21, 2011 and December 31, 2014, the areas servicemembers reported to have the most problems with were debt collection, mortgage, and credit reporting. With debt collection making up 39% of the complaints, it is the most common type of complaint the Bureau receives from servicemembers: “[S]ervicemembers assert that the calculation of debt is inaccurate or unfair… [They] complain about telephone collections that are too frequent and that come at inconvenient times. They also complain about debt collectors calling their place of employment or third parties.” In addition to debt collection, mortgage, and credit reporting complaints, the report reveals the following products as problem areas for servicemembers: credit cards, bank accounts, consumer loans, and student loans. The Bureau’s report is an overview of the approximated 29,500 complaints the Bureau received from servicemembers since July 2011.
On March 19, the CFPB announced the publication of its Final Policy Statement on disclosure of complaint narratives. The Final Policy allows consumers who file complaints with the CFPB to “opt-in” to have the actual narrative of the complaint disclosed in the CFPB’s consumer complaint database, with private information scrubbed out of the narrative. Until now, the database contained only general information. The company identified in the complaint will have the option, for a 180 day period, to select from a pre-set list of structured responses to accompany the consumer complaint narrative. Further, the CFPB will disclose the consumer narrative when the company provides its public-facing response or after the company has been in receipt of the complaint for 60 calendar days, whichever occurs first. On the same day, the CFPB issued a Request For Information regarding the potential collection, identification, and sharing of consumer feedback specific to positive interactions with banks and non-banks in conjunction with the complaint handling process.
On February 9, the CFPB released a report detailing complaints associated with reverse mortgages. According to the report, a high volume of complaints concern requests for changes to loan terms, issues related to loan servicing, and foreclosure activities. The report covers approximately 1,200 complaints received from December 1, 2011 through December 31, 2014. The report also notes that “[s]ince the CFPB began accepting reverse mortgage complaints in December, 2011, HUD has issued more than 10 policy changes to the HECM [Home Equity Conversion Mortgage] program.” One of these policy changes, effective after March 2, 2015, will require lenders to conduct financial assessments of prospective borrowers prior to approving the loan. The change is expected to decrease defaults due to non-payment of real estate taxes and insurance for loans originated after March 2.
On November 5, the CFPB announced the release of a report highlighting debt collection issues among older Americans. The report analyzed nearly 8,700 complaints made by older consumers from July 2013 to September 2014. The most common debt collection complaints noted in the report relate to medical debt, debts of deceased family members, and threats to garnish older American’s federal benefits. Notably, of the complaints submitted, 17 percent were related to credit cards and 5 percent to payday loans.
On August 11, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (the CFPB or Bureau) issued a "consumer advisory" concerning virtual currency and also announced that it would begin accepting consumer complaints about virtual currency or virtual currency companies. These actions are the consumer agency’s first foray into virtual currencies, and they follow a recent GAO report that recommended the CFPB play a larger role in the development of federal virtual currency policy.
The advisory describes virtual currencies, briefly notes their potential for innovation, and cautions consumers about the numerous and significant risks the CFPB believes virtual currencies present for consumers. Specifically, the CFPB cautions virtual currency consumers that there are risks related to hackers, fewer consumer protections, costs, and scams. The advisory elaborates on the risks for each stage of a virtual currency transaction: purchasing, storing, or transacting in virtual currencies. For example:
- Purchasing: Warns consumers purchasing virtual currencies to beware of cost fluctuations and potential scams.
- Storage: Expresses concerns about data security risks and the lack of federal insurance for virtual currencies.
- Transactions: Advises consumers transacting in virtual currencies to read their agreement with their wallet provider and be mindful of the risks of linking their digital wallet account to their bank account or payment card.
The Bureau announced that it is working on a new form for virtual currency complaints, but in the meantime will accept such complaints using its money transfer complaints form.
Virtual currency complaints will be subject to the CFPB’s standard complaint process. As described in the CFPB’s most recent consumer complaint report, once a complaint is submitted, the CFPB sends the complaint to the appropriate company and works with the company to get a response within 15 calendar days. Each complaint is published in a public database after the company responds to the complaint or after the company has had the complaint for 15 days, whichever comes first. If a company can demonstrate within the 15-day period that it has been wrongly identified, no data for that complaint will be posted unless and until the correct company is identified. The CFPB states that if it receives a complaint about an issue outside its jurisdiction, the Bureau will forward the complaint to the appropriate federal or state regulator.
Jurisdictional issues notwithstanding, the Bureau promises to use all virtual currency complaints it receives to better understand the virtual currency market and its effect on consumers. The CFPB also asserts that it will use complaints to help enforce federal consumer financial laws and, if appropriate, take consumer protection policy steps. The Bureau has demonstrated through its examination and enforcement activity in other areas that consumer complaints play a significant role in the Bureau’s risk-based approach to supervision and enforcement. Moreover, the CFPB recently proposed to publish consumer complaint narratives with other complaint data already made public, noting in its proposal that by increasing consumer complaint volume, publication of narratives would benefit “the many Bureau functions that rely, in part, on complaint data to perform their respective missions including the Offices of Supervision, Enforcement, and Fair Lending, Consumer Education and Engagement, and Research, Markets, and Rulemaking."
* * *
Our Digital Commerce & Payments Practice group is experienced in regulatory matters arising at the intersection of digital payments, financial institutions, and technology providers, and is uniquely positioned to assist virtual currency and related companies whose business brings them into contact with the CFPB.
Our Consumer Financial Protection Bureau group has advised clients in dozens of CFPB examinations, investigations, and enforcement actions and frequently represents clients in connection with CFPB supervision preparedness and matters pertaining to compliance with CFPB rulemakings and regulatory expectations, including consumer complaint issues.
Please contact one of the attorneys listed below if you would like to discuss the CFPB advisory or complaints announcement.
- Manley Williams, (202) 349-8060
On July 29, the CFPB announced that it extended 30 days to September 22, 2014 the deadline for submitting comments on its proposal to publish consumer complaint narratives. In doing so, the CFPB again defended the proposal as consistent with practices at other government agencies and as an extension of its efforts to give voice to consumers’ concerns. The extension followed a request from a group of industry trade associations that noted the numerous legal and practical issues raised by the proposal.
On July 23, FINRA announced that the SEC approved a new rule prohibiting FINRA-supervised firms and registered representatives from conditioning settlement of a customer dispute on—or otherwise compensating a customer for—the customer's agreement to consent to, or not to oppose, the firm's or representative's request to expunge such information from the Central Registration Depository (CRD) system. The CRD system is an online registration and licensing system for the securities industry, which contains information regarding members and registered representatives, such as personal information, registration, and employment history, as well as disclosure information including criminal matters, regulatory and disciplinary actions, civil judicial actions, and information relating to customer complaints and disputes. The information FINRA makes public through BrokerCheck is derived from CRD. Brokers who wish to have a customer dispute removed from the CRD system and, thereby, from BrokerCheck, must obtain a court order confirming an arbitration award recommending expungement relief. FINRA will announce the effective date of the new rule in a regulatory notice to be published shortly.
CFPB Expands Complaint Collection To Include Prepaid Cards, Additional Nonbank Products And Services
On July 21, the CFPB announced that it is now accepting consumer complaints regarding (i) prepaid products, including gift cards, benefit cards, and general purpose reloadable cards; (ii) credit repair services and debt settlement services; and (iii) pawn and title loans. The CFPB’s decision to field prepaid card complaints comes as the agency prepares a proposed rule related to those products. The press release states that the CFPB is planning to initiate the prepaid card rulemaking “in the coming months.” Director Cordray recently stated the rule would be proposed at the “end of the summer.”
The CFPB provides the following options for consumers to identify the nature of their complaints:
- Prepaid Cards - (i) managing, opening, or closing your account; (ii) fees; (iii) unauthorized transactions or other transaction issues; (iv) advertising, marketing or disclosures; (v) adding money; (vi) overdraft, savings or rewards features; or (vii) fraud or scam.
- Credit Repair and Debt Settlement - (i) advertising and marketing; (ii) customer service/customer relations; (iii) disclosures; (iv) excessive fees; (v) unexpected/other fees; (vi) incorrect exchange rate; (vii) lost or stolen money order; (viii) lost or stolen check; or (ix) fraud or scam.
- Pawn and Title Loans – (i) charged fees or interest I didn't expect; (ii) can't stop lender from charging my bank account; (iii) received a loan I didn't apply for; (iv) applied for a loan, but didn't receive money; (v) lender charged my bank account on wrong day or for wrong amount; (vi) lender didn't credit payment to my account; (vii) can't contact lender; (viii) lender sold the property / repossessed or sold the vehicle; or (ix) lender damaged or destroyed property / vehicle.
As with all of the CFPB’s complaint categories, consumers also have an opportunity to describe their complaints regarding these new products and services in narrative form. Last week, the CFPB proposed a policy change under which it would publish those consumer complaint narratives, a move it hopes will increase the number of complaints the CFPB fields. At the same time the CFPB released its latest “snapshot” of consumer complaints, which provides an overview of the complaint process and summary analyses of complaints handled by the CFPB since July 21, 2011.
On July 15, the Department of Education’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) published a report on its audit of the Department’s Federal Student Aid (FSA) office, which revealed that the FSA has failed to effectively: (i) monitor borrower complaints against private collection agencies (PCAs) and ensure that corrective action is taken; (ii) ensure PCAs are abiding by federal debt collection laws and the related terms of their contracts; and (iii) consider borrower complaints in its evaluation and compensation of PCAs. The audit covered the period October 1, 2009, through September 30, 2012. The OIG recommended that FSA, among other things, (i) enforce the contract requirement that PCAs submit all complaints to FSA and establish procedures that include ensuring PCAs take corrective action; and (ii) require relevant staff to monitor, review, and evaluate the PCA deliverables and reconcile the management/fiscal reports with recorded complaints. The FSA concurred with the findings and most of the recommendations and stated that it has taken a number of steps over the past two years to strengthen its PCA oversight efforts. The FSA further stated that it has planned additional improvements that will further enhance its ability to effectively oversee PCA’s interactions with defaulted borrowers.
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss “How the new administration sets the tone for 2021” at the American Conference Institute Legal, Regulatory and Compliance Forum on Fintech & Emerging Payment Systems
- Sherry-Maria Safchuk to discuss UDAAP in consumer finance at an American Bar Association webinar
- Jeffrey P. Naimon to discuss "What to expect: The new administration and regulatory changes" at the Mortgage Bankers Association Legal Issues and Regulatory Compliance Conference
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss “The future of fair lending” at the Mortgage Bankers Association Legal Issues and Regulatory Compliance Conference
- Steven R. vonBerg to discuss "LO comp challenges" at the Mortgage Bankers Association Legal Issues and Regulatory Compliance Conference
- Michelle L. Rogers to discuss "Major litigation" at the Mortgage Bankers Association Legal Issues and Regulatory Compliance Conference
- Michelle L. Rogers to discuss “The False Claims Act today” at the Federal Bar Association Qui Tam Section Roundtable