The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau announced Wednesday the controversial public Consumer Complaint Database is here to stay.

The CFPB announced that it will continue the publication of consumer complaints, data fields and narrative descriptions through the bureau’s Consumer Complaint Database.

The consumer complaint database and the reports derived from it have long been a source of consternation for the financial services industry, ever since the bureau decided to make those complaints public over the objections of many industry observers.

Many industry participants took issue with the fact that the complaints were made public, despite potentially being unverified and unproven. Previously, the bureau explained that the CFPB uses the complaint database as a guide for determining whether to pursue an exam against a particular company.

But then, in early 2018 under then Acting Director Mick Mulvaney, the CFPB began asking for public comments on its consumer complaint gathering and reporting, including the controversial complaint database.

Specifically, the CFPB is asking for comments from “interested parties” on the “usefulness” of its complaint reporting and analysis, as well as specific suggestions or best practices for complaint reporting.

At the time, the CFPB had topped 1 million complaints received in its database. The CFPB takes those complaints, analyzes them, and publishes reports about the number of complaints it’s received, the types of complaints, and the most complained about companies.

But the CFPB now wanted to know if those reports are useful and how they might be changed moving forward, along with how the complaint database could be altered.

Now, the CFPB announced it decided to keep the database public, but that it is making several enhancements to the information available to users of the database.

The enhancements include:

  • Modified disclaimers to provide better context to the published data
  • Integrating financial information and resources into the complaint process to help address questions and better inform consumers before they submit a complaint
  • Information to assist consumers who wish to contact the financial company to get answers to their specific questions.

Additionally, the Bureau will work to provide enhanced features for the database that include dynamic visualization tools on recent complaint data.

“Since its inception, the Consumer Complaint Database has not been without controversy,” CFPB Director Kathy Kraninger said. “When the bureau asked for feedback in 2018, we received nearly 26,000 comments from a wide array of stakeholders including government officials, consumer groups, companies, academics and individual consumers.”

“After carefully examining and considering all stakeholder and public input, we are announcing the continued publication of complaints with enhanced data and context that will benefit consumers and users of the database while addressing many of the concerns raised,” Kraninger continued. “The continued publication of the database, along with the enhancements, empowers consumers and informs the public.”

The Mortgage Bankers Association chimed in, saying it appreciated the bureau’s willingness to change current systems to better serve the industry.

“MBA appreciates the Bureau’s willingness to make changes to the Consumer Complaint Database so it will be a better resource for consumers and provide a more accurate depiction of industry performance,” MBA President and CEO Robert Broeksmit said. “The changes announced today by Director Kraninger, and the work in the months ahead, will allow consumers to make better informed and educated decisions with the information the Bureau collects and publishes through its complaint portal.”

The Bureau is making changes to its website to provide disclosures on the nature of complaints as well as resources to consumers, including:

  • More prominently display disclosures making it clear that the Consumer Complaint Database is not a statistical sample of consumers’ experiences in the marketplace
  • Highlighting the availability of answers to common financial questions for consumers to help inform them before they submit a complaint
  • Highlighting consumers ability to contact the financial company directly to get answers to their specific questions

The CFPB will continue to publish all of its previously disclosed fields, including consumers’ narrative descriptions of their complaints. It also announced it will continue to make more changes in the months to come, including:

  • Build and launch dynamic visualization tools including geospatial and trend views based on recent complaint data to help users of the database understand current and recent marketplace conditions
  • Emphasize features for aggregation and analysis while continuing to make all the underlying data available for analysis
  • Explore expansion of a company’s ability to respond publicly to individual complaints listed in the database
  • Continue to explore ways to put the complaint data in context of other data, such as by incorporating product or service market share and company size

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