United States: Bureau Proposes Sharing Consumer Narratives In Complaints Database

On July 17, 2014, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau ("CFPB") held a field hearing in El Paso, Texas to announce a new policy proposal ("Proposal") that would expand the Consumer Complaint Database ("Database") to allow consumers to share their views and individual stories publicly by including consumer complaint narratives in the Database. Specifically, the CFPB proposes to allow consumers to publish unstructured and unverified narratives describing their complaints when contributing to the CFPB's Database.

The CFPB started taking consumer complaints immediately when it commenced operations in July of 2011, but it did not begin to publish those complaints in the Database until June 2012. Initially, the Database was limited to complaints about credit cards. Over the years, the CFPB has gradually expanded the Database to include more data fields and additional financial products, including mortgages, bank accounts, credit reporting and debt collection. On July 21, 2014, the CFPB announced it is now accepting complaints regarding prepaid cards and additional nonbank products such as credit repair and debt settlement services.


The Proposal continues the CFPB's trend of gradually expanding the Database to include new data fields and additional types of financial products. Currently, the public Database includes information such as the consumer's zip code and date of submission, the financial product type, and the company's name and response to the consumer's complaint. In the Proposal, the CFPB now puts forward for consideration the idea of adding the consumer's personal description of the complaint to the publicly available materials. Although the CFPB already collects such descriptions with each complaint, the Proposal would make these narratives public for the first time, and potentially obligate financial institutions to provide both public-facing responses and personalized responses for consumers.

Under the Proposal, consumers wishing to include narratives in the Database would be required to provide informed consent before the narrative would be published. Specifically, consumers would be required to check a box on the complaint form to opt in to sharing their stories. Nevertheless, the CFPB would scrub personal information from the complaint before publication.

The CFPB contends that the Proposal would result in potential benefits at little to no cost to consumers. According to the CFPB's press release, publishing narratives along with the basic information already available in the Database would "provide important context to the complaint, help the public to detect specific trends in the market, aid consumer decision-making, and drive improved consumer service." Currently, the Database displays only a high-level categorization of each complaint, such as "transaction issues" or "billing disputes." Apparently, the CFPB believes that by accessing the consumer's narrative description, Database viewers would gain more detail about a particular complaint. The CFPB compares its proposed expanded Database to the Consumer Product Safety Commission's "SaferProducts.gov" and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's "SaferCar.gov." According to the CFPB, "consumers often go online to research products before they make a decision to purchase. Including the details of a complaint would help inform consumers who are considering a particular product or service." The CFPB also said that consumers "could use the narrative to decide for themselves if the problems experienced by other consumers would stop them from purchasing the same product or service."


The Database's inherent nature as a complaints database assumes that any information contributed to the Database will be negative towards financial institutions, creating a serious risk of potential reputational harm. The CFPB still communicates no indication in the Proposal that it will make any attempt to verify the accuracy of the complaint or whether an institution's actions, even if the complaint were true, would be inconsistent with any law or regulation. And, presenting the words of angry consumers without validation would result in baseless or misleading statements that could damage an institution's standing in the public eye. Nevertheless, consumers are likely to view these unverified statements as reliable because a government agency has posted them on its official Web site.

In his remarks, Director Cordray states that the CFPB would "verify that a commercial relationship exists between the consumer and the company − that the consumer does in fact have an account or does in fact do business with that company," but that is not the same as verifying that a consumer's allegations are true or that the company's action was in any way inappropriate. While the CFPB says it intends to give financial institutions an opportunity to publish a response to each complaint, this would not be enough to cure the lopsided nature of the database, and the failure of the CFPB to perform any verification.

The skewed nature of the Database could even result in harm to consumers. The Database already contains over 400,000 complaints, and it soon could be far too vast for consumers to peruse every complaint narrative and response for a particular product or institution. Consumers may have little alternative to relying on raw numbers and browsing only a few complaints and fewer responses. And, as larger institutions are more likely, by dint of sheer numbers, to have more complaints against them than smaller companies, shortcuts for reviewing the Database could end up driving consumers away from safer institutions and, potentially, towards smaller institutions and non-banks that may not ultimately benefit the consumer most.


The CFPB's Proposal indicates that the Bureau is most interested in hearing public comment on how to communicate most effectively with consumers to ensure informed consent, whether the company response on the Database should be distinct from and in addition to a response the company provides directly to the consumer, and methods for ensuring the privacy of consumers by scrubbing personal information from complaints.

We will continue to follow the CFPB's work on the Consumer Complaints Database. Comments regarding the new proposed policy are due within 30 days of the Proposal's publication in the Federal Register.

Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

© Morrison & Foerster LLP. All rights reserved

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on Mondaq.com.

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Amanda J. Mollo
In association with
Related Topics
Related Articles
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
Email Address
Company Name
Confirm Password
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Media & IT
 Real Estate
 Wealth Mgt
Asia Pacific
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
United States
Worldwide Updates
Registration (you must scroll down to set your data preferences)

Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including your content preferences, for three primary purposes (full details of Mondaq’s use of your personal data can be found in our Privacy and Cookies Notice):

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting to show content ("Content") relevant to your interests.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, news alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our content providers ("Contributors") who contribute Content for free for your use.

Mondaq hopes that our registered users will support us in maintaining our free to view business model by consenting to our use of your personal data as described below.

Mondaq has a "free to view" business model. Our services are paid for by Contributors in exchange for Mondaq providing them with access to information about who accesses their content. Once personal data is transferred to our Contributors they become a data controller of this personal data. They use it to measure the response that their articles are receiving, as a form of market research. They may also use it to provide Mondaq users with information about their products and services.

Details of each Contributor to which your personal data will be transferred is clearly stated within the Content that you access. For full details of how this Contributor will use your personal data, you should review the Contributor’s own Privacy Notice.

Please indicate your preference below:

Yes, I am happy to support Mondaq in maintaining its free to view business model by agreeing to allow Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors whose Content I access
No, I do not want Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors

Also please let us know whether you are happy to receive communications promoting products and services offered by Mondaq:

Yes, I am happy to received promotional communications from Mondaq
No, please do not send me promotional communications from Mondaq
Terms & Conditions

Mondaq.com (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd (Mondaq). Mondaq grants you a non-exclusive, revocable licence to access the Website and associated services, such as the Mondaq News Alerts (Services), subject to and in consideration of your compliance with the following terms and conditions of use (Terms). Your use of the Website and/or Services constitutes your agreement to the Terms. Mondaq may terminate your use of the Website and Services if you are in breach of these Terms or if Mondaq decides to terminate the licence granted hereunder for any reason whatsoever.

Use of www.mondaq.com

To Use Mondaq.com you must be: eighteen (18) years old or over; legally capable of entering into binding contracts; and not in any way prohibited by the applicable law to enter into these Terms in the jurisdiction which you are currently located.

You may use the Website as an unregistered user, however, you are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the Content or to receive the Services.

You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these Terms or with the prior written consent of Mondaq. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information from the Content. Nor shall you extract information about users or Contributors in order to offer them any services or products.

In your use of the Website and/or Services you shall: comply with all applicable laws, regulations, directives and legislations which apply to your Use of the Website and/or Services in whatever country you are physically located including without limitation any and all consumer law, export control laws and regulations; provide to us true, correct and accurate information and promptly inform us in the event that any information that you have provided to us changes or becomes inaccurate; notify Mondaq immediately of any circumstances where you have reason to believe that any Intellectual Property Rights or any other rights of any third party may have been infringed; co-operate with reasonable security or other checks or requests for information made by Mondaq from time to time; and at all times be fully liable for the breach of any of these Terms by a third party using your login details to access the Website and/or Services

however, you shall not: do anything likely to impair, interfere with or damage or cause harm or distress to any persons, or the network; do anything that will infringe any Intellectual Property Rights or other rights of Mondaq or any third party; or use the Website, Services and/or Content otherwise than in accordance with these Terms; use any trade marks or service marks of Mondaq or the Contributors, or do anything which may be seen to take unfair advantage of the reputation and goodwill of Mondaq or the Contributors, or the Website, Services and/or Content.

Mondaq reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to take any action that it deems necessary and appropriate in the event it considers that there is a breach or threatened breach of the Terms.

Mondaq’s Rights and Obligations

Unless otherwise expressly set out to the contrary, nothing in these Terms shall serve to transfer from Mondaq to you, any Intellectual Property Rights owned by and/or licensed to Mondaq and all rights, title and interest in and to such Intellectual Property Rights will remain exclusively with Mondaq and/or its licensors.

Mondaq shall use its reasonable endeavours to make the Website and Services available to you at all times, but we cannot guarantee an uninterrupted and fault free service.

Mondaq reserves the right to make changes to the services and/or the Website or part thereof, from time to time, and we may add, remove, modify and/or vary any elements of features and functionalities of the Website or the services.

Mondaq also reserves the right from time to time to monitor your Use of the Website and/or services.


The Content is general information only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice or seek to be the complete and comprehensive statement of the law, nor is it intended to address your specific requirements or provide advice on which reliance should be placed. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the Content for any purpose. All Content provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers hereby exclude and disclaim all representations, warranties or guarantees with regard to the Content, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. To the maximum extent permitted by law, Mondaq expressly excludes all representations, warranties, obligations, and liabilities arising out of or in connection with all Content. In no event shall Mondaq and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use of the Content or performance of Mondaq’s Services.


Mondaq may alter or amend these Terms by amending them on the Website. By continuing to Use the Services and/or the Website after such amendment, you will be deemed to have accepted any amendment to these Terms.

These Terms shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of England and Wales and you irrevocably submit to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales to settle any dispute which may arise out of or in connection with these Terms. If you live outside the United Kingdom, English law shall apply only to the extent that English law shall not deprive you of any legal protection accorded in accordance with the law of the place where you are habitually resident ("Local Law"). In the event English law deprives you of any legal protection which is accorded to you under Local Law, then these terms shall be governed by Local Law and any dispute or claim arising out of or in connection with these Terms shall be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts where you are habitually resident.

You may print and keep a copy of these Terms, which form the entire agreement between you and Mondaq and supersede any other communications or advertising in respect of the Service and/or the Website.

No delay in exercising or non-exercise by you and/or Mondaq of any of its rights under or in connection with these Terms shall operate as a waiver or release of each of your or Mondaq’s right. Rather, any such waiver or release must be specifically granted in writing signed by the party granting it.

If any part of these Terms is held unenforceable, that part shall be enforced to the maximum extent permissible so as to give effect to the intent of the parties, and the Terms shall continue in full force and effect.

Mondaq shall not incur any liability to you on account of any loss or damage resulting from any delay or failure to perform all or any part of these Terms if such delay or failure is caused, in whole or in part, by events, occurrences, or causes beyond the control of Mondaq. Such events, occurrences or causes will include, without limitation, acts of God, strikes, lockouts, server and network failure, riots, acts of war, earthquakes, fire and explosions.

By clicking Register you state you have read and agree to our Terms and Conditions