Mick Mulvaney, the acting director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), said that the agency will likely shut down its public complaint database.
As The New York Times explained, the database has been in effect since 2011, with the bureau keeping a searchable record of more than one million consumer reports about inaccurate debt collections, illegal fees, improper overdraft charges, mistakes on loans and other issues.
While the agency must collect those complaints, it is not legally required to share them online.
“I don’t see anything in here that says I have to run a Yelp for financial services sponsored by the federal government,” said Mulvaney at a banking industry conference in Washington. “I don’t see anything in here that says that I have to make all of those public.”
But consumer groups argue that shutting down the database would take away one of its most important purposes: pushing companies to take complaints more seriously. The move would also prevent others, including academic researchers, from using its data.
“Making complaints public gives companies a stronger incentive to treat people right,” said Lauren Sanders, associate director of the National Consumer Law Center. “It also helps people stay away from companies with bad track records. It lets the free market help steer us in the direction of consumer protection.”
The agency had been using the complaints to track patterns of bad behavior. In fact, a wave of complaints about Wells Fargo prompted the CFPB to investigate and expose the bank’s fake accounts scandal.
Financial institutions, however, have said that the database can be misleading, as complaints are posted without being vetted. And banks say they already have a system for handling customer complaints.
“Publishing unverified complaints – or worse, using those complaints to paint a picture of guilt in the public domain – is irresponsible,” said Richard Hunt, chief executive of the Consumer Bankers Association.