The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has finalized the expansion of the consumer narrative portion of its online complaint database.
The expansion, proposed in July 2014, allows consumers to opt-in to publicly share the narrative portion of a complaint. They can opt-out at any time, and personal information will be removed from the narrative prior to publication. Previously, the narrative portion of the complaint was kept private.
In order for companies to learn about this new system, the bureau will not publish any narrative for at least 90 days after the policy’s publication in the Federal Register.
Complaints must meet certain requirements in order to be published. They must be submitted through the CFPB website, they cannot duplicate a previous submission, and the consumer must have a confirmed relationship with the financial institution in question.
Companies still have 15 days to provide a response to the complaint before it is published in the database. The CFPB will disclose the consumer narrative when the company provides its public-facing response, or after the company has had the complaint for 60 calendar days.
Companies will be able to select from a set list of structured response options as a public-facing response.
Some industry advocates have been critical of the publication of the narratives, saying that their unverified nature may cause reputational harm. While acknowledging industry concerns, the CFPB said that the greater transparency of information will improve customer service and compliance mechanisms.
“In addition, disclosure of consumer narratives will provide companies with greater insight into issues and challenges occurring across their markets, which can supplement their own company-specific perspectives and lend more insight into appropriate practices,” the bureau said.
The bureau is also collecting input on a similar endeavor to catalog consumers’ positive interactions with financial service providers, either providing input on how complaints were resolved or offering a separate database for consumer compliments.
“Consumer narratives shed light on the full consumer perspective behind a complaint,” said CFPB Director Richard Cordray. “Narratives humanize the problems consumers face in the marketplace. Today’s policy will serve to empower consumers by helping them make informed decisions and helping track trends in the consumer financial market.”