In the aftermath of the 2007-2008 financial crisis, Congress established the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) to regulate consumer financial products and services and protect consumers from unfair, deceptive, or abusive acts or practices. One of the major ways we do this is through collecting, monitoring, and responding to consumer complaints. The complaints we receive help inform our policy and regulatory priorities and enforcement activities. Simply put, the more complaints we receive from a broader demographic and on a broader array of issues, the better informed we are to carry out our core function of protecting consumers and ensuring a fair, transparent, and competitive financial marketplace.
While this data is important to how the CFPB does its work, we have learned that consumer complaints can shine a light on trends and practices that could cause another financial calamity and once again inflict long-term havoc on consumers’ financial wellbeing. We wanted to increase the impact of our complaint data by sharing it with cities and counties so they can increase their efforts to protect consumers at the local level. Engaging with local governments is a win-win for consumers and the CFPB. It helps protect as many consumers as possible from predatory lending, barriers to credit, and other consumer harms.
For our initial engagement, we chose cities and counties that were best positioned to benefit from the CFPB’s complaint data:
- Local governments with civil or criminal prosecutorial authority to monitor and enforce their own consumer protection laws as well as force-multiply enforcement of federal consumer financial protection laws such as those available under the Consumer Financial Protection Act; and
- Local governments with, or that are working to create, financial empowerment offices and developing financial empowerment strategies to improve financial stability for low- and moderate-income households.
After successfully completing a careful review process, the CFPB began onboarding the local governments to the CFPB’s Government Portal. While the public can review complaints through the CFPB’s public-facing Consumer Complaint Database, the Government Portal gives local, state, and federal government agencies access to more granular information about consumers’ complaints and companies’ responses—all through a secure interface. Onboarding to the Government Portal, which requires cities and counties to sign a confidentiality and data access agreement with stringent personal data protection requirements, enables them to:
- See in real-time what consumers are experiencing in the financial marketplace and how companies are responding
- Download complaints—including consumer- and company-provided documents—to investigate and enforce rules protecting consumers
- Compare problems their constituents are facing to other localities and nationwide
- Filter and export information to ensure targeted analysis by time period, company, geography, and more
- Securely refer individual complaints to the CFPB
- Receive the list of companies responding to complaints through CFPB’s process (last year, more than 3,400 companies responded to consumer complaints)
Among other responsibilities, local governments protect their constituents by calling out financial fraudsters and predatory financial products and services. Through the CFPB’s secure Government Portal, local governments can directly submit constituents’ complaints and get responses from the companies. The complaint data can also help local government officials identify what gaps exist, and what fixes are needed – thereby helping them in their mission to foster increased consumer awareness and eventual empowerment. Additionally, cities and counties are best equipped to identify bad actors and enforce their own consumer protection laws to protect consumers.
It is clear this strategy has filled a void. In less than three months, more than a dozen cities and counties have expressed interest in accessing the Government Portal. Some of the participating jurisdictions include:
- Department of Consumer and Business Affairs – Los Angeles County, CA
- Office of the Harris County Attorney, Harris County, TX
- Montgomery County Office of Consumer Protection, Montgomery County, MD
- Sacramento County District Attorney’s Office, Sacramento, CA
- Los Angeles Office of the City Attorney, Consumer and Workplace Protection, Los Angeles, CA
- New York City Department of Consumer and Worker Protection, New York City, NY
- City of Albuquerque Consumer Protection, Office of Policy, Albuquerque, NM
- City of Austin, Regulatory Monitor, Office of Telecommunications & Regulatory Affairs, Austin, TX
- Office of the Columbus City Attorney, Columbus, OH
- Office of Oakland City Attorney, Oakland, CA
We look forward to working with these local governments and onboarding more cities and counties who want to join the CFPB in protecting consumers from fraudulent and predatory companies and practices that violate consumer finance laws.
If your city or county would like more information about the CFPB’s Government Portal, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.