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CFPB: Let Consumers Make Their Complaints Public; All Rejoice

posted by Dalié Jiménez

CFPBcomplaintsbyproductThis week the CFPB announced it's seeking public comments on a proposed policy that would allow consumers who file a complaint with the agency to share all of the (non-personally identifying) details of that complaint with the public as part of its Consumer Complaint Database. (Right now the database only identifies the financial product complained about, name of the company, and a category identifying the topic of the complaint).

As a researcher, I am beyond thrilled at the possibility of being able to drill down into the details of complaints. This might allow us to go even further than the CFPB or Ian Ayres and others did last year in analyzing the complaint database. 

Good players in the consumer finance space should be thrilled too: more data will allow us to really separate those who are doing right by consumers from those who aren't. It would allow the public or researchers to decide for themselves whether someone was making a mountain out of a molehill or if was identifying a real problem in their complaint. The fact that we currently don't have transparecy into complaints is a common (and justified) complaint by the debt collection industry. The CFPB is also proposing to make public the institution's response to the complaint (at their option). Anyone could then evaluate whether they think particular industries/institutions are responding appropriately to complaints. 

There may some soon come a day when we have a Yelp-like system of financial institutions and consumer financial products. Or something much more advanced: merging other datasets like Ian Ayres did or including the number of accounts/customers for particular companies so that we can assess the ratio of complaints relative to products as opposed to just realizing that big banks are wont to get more complaints.

The current complaint database has a number of problems (Katie Porteridentified a few in this site), and although you can download the full data to play with, the power is really in easy-to-use visualization tools and there the site is currently lacking.

Part of the problem seems to be with the current (third party) API. In response, a community of programmers both from the public and inside the Bureau are working on a new open source data visualization API. This exciting (albeit geeky) news continues the Bureau's commitment to building good government websites. It should also make it easier for industry and consumer groups to launch their own sites visualizing and analyzing the data. 


Image from: CFPB, Consumer Response: A Snapshot of Complaints Received July 21, 2011 through June 30, 2014 at 10.


Wow, amazing stats. We can't do this on our website. :(

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