The federal agency in charge of protecting consumers from troubling lending practices is now launching its promised database of credit card complaints, though some experts say it is unfair for the watchdog to do so.
The federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau will launch the beta version of a database containing borrowers' complaints about their credit cards, with an eye toward expanding the service by the end of the year, according to a report from the Los Angeles Times. However, many experts within the financial industry say that such a move might actually be quite harmful because of the way the agency vets information.
This is largely because the CFPB has very little way to actually verify that the complaints it receives from consumers are accurate, representative of the overall borrowers' experience on the accounts being complained about, and might not have all the information in every complaint case, the report said. Further, because the database will only cover complaints for larger banks, and not smaller ones - since the CFPB does not regulate financial institutions under a certain size - there could be greater inequity.
"Disclosure of these complaints in a public database is going to be seen as government imprimatur of unverified complaints, the accuracy of which nobody can stand up and stand behind," Richard Riese, senior vice president at the American Bankers Association's Center for Regulatory Compliance, told the newspaper.
The beta version of the CFPB database will contain only a portion of the complaints the agency has received about credit cards, the report said. However, these entries will be fully searchable by the lender involved, the product about which the report was filed, the type of dispute, and the ZIP code for the complainant. However, CFPB director Richard Cordray says that by the end of the year, the agency would like to expand its credit card database and have one in place for mortgages and other types of consumer credit products as well.
Consumer advocates say that customer complaint databases are nothing new for federal agencies, as the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Department of Transportation and Consumer Product Safety Commission all maintain similar searchable public complaint files. Further, these advocates say that by making consumer financial complaints public, it will likely improve lenders' responses to them.
In all, the CFPB received 45,630 complaints about lending practices between July 21, 2011, and June 1, 2012, the report said. Of those, 16,840 were about credit cards, and 19,250 were about mortgages. Recent data from the agency shows that 89 percent of complaints have received responses from the lenders in question, and 94 percent of those about credit cards.
The CFPB has significantly increased its operations since Cordray took office early in 2012, after operating without a director for roughly the first six months of its operation. It plans to continue further expansion of its efforts to protect consumers over the course of the year.