On December 7, 2011, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) issued a proposed policy statement addressing the public disclosure of certain credit card complaint data.
Since its launch in July, 2011, the CFPB has assumed the role of moderator between credit card consumers and their issuing banks. Consumers file complaints on the CFPB website, inputting their names and addresses, the issuing bank, the type of complaint, and the claimed loss. The CFPB then forwards these complaints to the respective credit card companies and "tracks" the investigations to ensure their proper resolution. Of the more than 5,000 credit card complaints filed with the CFPB since July, approximately 3,100 have been resolved in this fashion.
Now, the CFPB seeks to make some of this information public. It proposes that certain credit card complaint data be publicly available for research and analysis and for periodic reports issued by the CFPB. The aim is to give consumers meaningful information about credit card use, in furtherance of the CFPB’s statutory purpose to help consumers "make responsible decisions about financial transactions" and to ensure that markets for consumer financial products "operate transparently and efficiently." 12 U.S.C. 5511(b)(1), (5). The proposed policy does not contemplate the disclosure of sensitive information, such as the consumer’s name, address, or credit card number. Also protected from disclosure is any information where the consumer’s identification could be traced and confidential business information provided by issuers. What is left is the name of the card issuer, the complainant’s zip code, the date of the complaint, the subject area at issue, and whether and how the issuer responded. The CFPB proposes that this information be publicly available in an online, searchable, and downloadable database.
The extent to which this data is reliable or probative remains to be seen. The CFPB does not, however, contemplate the misidentification of credit card companies or false reporting by consumers. This exact concern was raised by product manufacturers when the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) began making similar public disclosures of consumer complaints earlier this year. The CFPB distinguishes this database from the CPSC’s by the fact that the issuer can be reliably identified from the submitted credit card number. In the event that a credit card company believes it has been wrongly identified, the CFPB will keep its name confidential until the correct issuer is confirmed.
Despite these assurances, issuers may still have concerns as to the accuracy of publicly disclosed consumer complaint data. Companies are therefore strongly advised to voice their concerns during the open comment period, which closes on January 30, 2012.