CU pushes for public access to financial complaints


May 25, 2011

Consumer Groups Call on CFPB To Ensure Public Has Easy Access
to Complaints Collected by Financial Watchdog

Access To Consumer Complaints Keeps Everyone Accountable

Washington D.C.- A coalition of consumer, civil rights, good government, and community groups have called on the new federal financial watchdog, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), to ensure that the public has full and fair access to consumer complaints filed with the agency when it opens its doors this summer.
Members of Americans for Financial Reform (AFR) sent a letter to the CFPB emphasizing that a publicly accessible, user-friendly searchable system benefits consumers and companies alike.
A consumer complaint database that allows individuals access to complaint data empowers consumers to make wise pre-purchase decisions, while saving the agency time and money. It also allows researchers to assist the agency in detecting risky trends and unfair practices before they reach epidemic proportions.
Public access to consumer complaint data achieves both transparency and accountability, and encourages industry to operate at its best, the groups told the CFPB in a letter today.
“Even before it opens its doors the CFPB has presented itself as a new breed of regulator. We strongly support the agency’s efforts to blend public input and transparency with its new mortgage disclosure forms,” says Consumer Action’s Ruth Susswein. “A publicly searchable database fits seamlessly into the Bureau’s efforts, while providing consumers with firsthand information that helps them avoid trouble.”
The groups have encouraged the consumer bureau to follow in the steps of its sister federal agencies, the Consumer Product Safety Commission which has offered consumers access to its safety database since March, and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration that has operated a publicly searchable database since 1966.
“An open and transparent complaint process will benefit households and businesses. We want people to be in a position to make informed choices, and a user-friendly searchable database is an important step toward achieving that,” says AFR executive director Lisa Donner.
“Providing consumers with the information they need to make smart financial decisions is a central part of the CFPB’s mission,” said Pamela Banks, senior policy counsel for Consumers Union, the nonprofit publisher of Consumer Reports. “It’s essential that consumers have easy access to complaints collected by the CFPB so they can protect their families and avoid financial scams and rip-offs.”
Certain sensitive information would remain private, but the groups maintain that direct access to the types of complaints that people report, and how a company handles those matters helps consumers prevent problems.
Access to actual complaint data also removes the hollow argument that consumer complaints are merely anecdotal.
Groups that signed on to the letter:
Americans for Financial Reform
Center for Responsible Lending
Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington
Consumer Action
Consumer Federation of America
Consumers Union
Empire Justice Center
iSolon.org
National Association of Consumer Advocates
National Consumer Law Center (on behalf of its low income clients)
National Community Reinvestment Coalition
Neighborhood Economic Development and Advocacy Project
National Fair Housing Alliance
OMB Watch
OpentheGovernement.org
Project On Government Oversight
Public Citizen
The Sunlight Foundation
U.S.PIRG
Washington Coalition for Open Government
Ruth Susswein ruth.susswwein@consumer-action.org (301) 718-2511
Ed Mierzwinski edm@pirg.org (202) 546-9707
John Carey john@ourfinancialsecurity.org (202) 466-1854
Michael McCauley mccami@consumer.org (415) 431-6747, ext 126