August 2015

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By: Maria Lewis, Compliance Attorney


While the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (hereinafter “CFPB” or “Bureau”) has been accepting consumer complaints since July 2011, it recently published its first Monthly Complaint Report on July 16, 2015. In an accompanying press release, the Bureau stated its new monthly reports will serve to “highlight key trends about consumer complaints submitted to the Bureau” and “provide insight for the public into hundreds of thousands of consumer complaints on financial products and services.”1] In addition to publishing a monthly report about complaints submitted throughout the country about a variety of financial products and services, each monthly report will focus on a particular product or type of complaint, as well as a specific geographical area.2] The CFPB focused its first report on debt collection complaints and complaints from consumers in and around the Milwaukee area.[3]


Admittedly, the CFPB calls this new report a “high-level snapshot” to show trends in consumer complaints.4] The report contains plenty of statistics, bar graphs, and charts broken down by product volume, volume by state, and overall percentage changes to show trends in the 650,700 complaints received as of July 1, 2015.5] CFPB Director Richard Cordray stated that the new monthly reports will enable the Bureau to “share [complaint data] with the public more regularly, so that everyone can benefit from the information.”6]


While the report contains 28 pages of statistics and graphs, commentators have already noted that it is lacking greatly on context. First, although the CFPB provides its very broad definition of a “complaint” and notes that it has received some 650,000 plus such complaints since mid-2011,7] the CFPB does not investigate the merits of consumer complaints. It merely “brings [consumer] concerns to the attention of companies, and assists in addressing their complaints.”8] The CFPB has not vetted or investigated the validity of the complaints.9] Moreover, the CFPB does not exclude any complaints from its data that have no factual basis.10] Accordingly, the report surely contains hundreds of thousands of complaints that have no validity or factual basis whatsoever.


Second, the report does not contain any normalization of the raw data to allow readers to accurately evaluate the complaint data.11] As one recent article pointed out, companies listed in the report as the “most-complained-about” are naturally going to be larger, national companies due to the fact that they deal with the most consumers and not necessarily because their practices are any more worthy of complaints.12] The CFPB barely acknowledges this very important point with nothing more than a footnote in its report: “Company-level information should be considered in context of company size.”13]


The CFPB does state, also in a footnote, that it is seeking input on ways to enable the public to “more easily understand” information provided about specific companies and make comparisons by offering a comment period open until August 31, 2015. Rather than publishing 28 pages of data without providing context or normalization for that data, the CFPB should have held a comment period well before issuing its first report so as to not mislead consumers about the data provided. Further, the CFPB should fully and clearly disclose the fact that it does not look into the merits or facts of the complaints it receives. Better yet, the CFPB could investigate complaints received through its portal and weed out those that completely lack merit or are simply the result of personal financial frustration and not the result of any wrongdoing by the named company.14] 

[1] Press Release, Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, CFPB Launches Its First-Ever Monthly Complaint Snapshot to Spotlight Consumer Trends (July 16, 2015).  

[2] Id.  

[3] Id.

[4] Id.

[5] Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Monthly Complaint Report 3 (Vol. 1 July 2015).

[6] Press Release, Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, supra note 1.

[7] Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, supra note 5, at 2-3.

[8] Id. at 2.

[9] Scott M. Pearson, CFPB Launches Monthly Complaint Report,  CFPB Monitor, July 20, 2015,

[10] Id.  

[11] Id.

[12] Id.; Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, supra note 5, at 9.

[13] Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, supra note 5, at 2.

[14] Pearson, supra note 9.

Posted: 8/11/2015 9:53:11 AM by Tom Connor | with 0 comments