I’ve recently learned about some industry confusion surrounding the CFPB Consumer Complaint Portal. In speaking with about a dozen or so individuals who are responsible for interacting with the Portal on behalf of their collection agencies, I’ve heard that there are new response category options (though it’s actually not clear if they are new), as well as new public response options. I’ve also learned about what companies see in their Portal versus what the public sees on the CFPB website; for instance, the complaint ID that the public sees bears no relation to the complaint ID the company sees.
First, the Response Categories
Since the launch of the Portal, companies have been required to choose from among these options:
- Closed with monetary relief
- Closed with non-monetary relief
- Closed with explanation
- In progress
Currently (always?) there are these additional category options:
- Alerted CFPB
- Incorrect company
- Duplicate CFPB case reported
- Redirected to related company
- Sent to regulator
It’s unclear how, but some in the industry believe this second set of options has only recently appeared, while others say these have always been there. I checked an older version of the Company Portal Manual (March 2013) and those categories do appear. Of greatest interest to collection agencies is “incorrect company,” which is especially useful because many company names sound the same. This option removes the complaint from the company’s Portal and sends it back to the Consumer Response team for review. I was told that this option didn’t originally launch with the portal but was added soon after, in response to industry requests.
Now, the Company Public Responses
On March 19, 2015 the CFPB announced plans to give consumers the option to make the narrative portion of their complaints public within the Consumer Complaint Database. According to the current Company Portal Manual, these won’t begin appearing for at least 90 days after the publication of the final policy statement in the Federal Register, so we haven’t yet reached that date.
Here are the options now available to companies for complaints submitted after the policy statement:
Description displayed in Consumer Complaint Database
Company acted appropriately
Company believes it acted appropriately as by contract law
Company disputes the facts presented in the complaint
Unable to verify facts
Company can’t verify or dispute the facts in the complaint
Company believes the complaint is the result of a misunderstanding
Discontinued policy or procedure
Company believes complaint relates to a discontinued policy or procedure
Opportunity for improvement
Company believes complaint represents an opportunity for improvement to better serve consumers
Company believes complaint is the result of an isolated error
Company believes complaint caused principally by actions of third party outside the control or direction of the company
No public response
Company chooses not to provide a public response
It seems that these options have been provided in response to industry concerns that consumers would “have their say,” so to speak, but companies wouldn’t have the same opportunity. Concerns about inadvertently revealing private consumer information in free-form company responses – and the liability that brings – led to the development of these standard response options.
Additionally, it seems the point was to give companies the ability to respond publicly in some way to public consumer narratives. However, the Company Portal does not indicate whether the consumer has consented to publication of the narrative. I also learned that the company is not notified when a consumer disputes the company response (which evidently occurs about 20% of the time).
And, remember how I mentioned above that the public-facing complaint ID doesn’t bear any resemblance to the ID for the same complaint in the Company Portal? A company would need to devote some pretty serious resources if they wanted to match these up.
In polling a dozen or so agencies about these response options, I’ve been hard-pressed to find one who isn’t afraid to touch it with a ten foot pole. And so far they aren’t.
The May 14, 2015 version of the Company Portal Manual says this:
With consumers’ consent, scrubbed complaint narratives will be published when the company selects a public response or after the company has had the complaint for 60 calendar days, whichever comes first.
After providing a final response of “Closed with monetary relief,” “Closed with non-monetary relief,” “Closed with explanation,” or “Closed:”
- Company portal users will have the option to select from a structured list of public company response categories. If selected, the recommended public company response would be eligible to be published in the Consumer Complaint Database. If no option is selected, no public company response will be published.
- The company public response option will be available whether or not the consumer consented to publishing his or her narrative.
- Company Portal users can select this optional public company response at the time of the final response … and anytime up to 180 days after the complaint is routed to the company. Once submitted, the company will not be able to edit the public response directly using the Company Portal.
- The company will not have the opportunity to select an optional public response for any complaint where the initial or final closing response is delinquent.
It will be interesting to see what data, if any, emerges once the 90 day period passes before publication of consumer narratives.
Of note, the current (May 14, 2015) version of the Company Portal Manual is 35 pages (the March 2013 version was 16 pages) and is updated when changes are made to the Portal or process. What I’ve been told, however, is that no formal notification is given when this happens. So if my understanding is correct, it’s the company representative’s responsibility to note when the manual has been updated, and to find the updates.
Subsequent to the March 2013 release, this guidance document was published in June 2013. I have not been able to find an update to that guidance document. Interestingly, the original guidance document, although called a “Guidance Document,” does not appear in this list of Guidance Documents on the CFPB website.
By Stephanie Eidelman