WASHINGTON, D.C. — Today the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) announced it is launching an inquiry into the challenges consumers face in accessing, using, and securely sharing their financial records. As part of the inquiry, the CFPB is asking the public for information about how much choice consumers are being given about the use of their records, how secure it is for them to share their records, and to what extent consumers have control over their records.
“Consumers should be able to use their financial records and account information and securely share access in an electronic format,” said CFPB Director Richard Cordray. “Technology provides opportunities to use these records to create new consumer tools that help improve financial lives. To realize that potential, we are launching a public inquiry into how much control consumers have over their records and how easy and secure it is for them to share their records with third parties.”
Whenever consumers make deposits, withdraw funds, or make payments using their various financial accounts – including checking, savings, prepaid card, and credit card accounts – they create financial records of their activity. These records are maintained by the account providers, such as banks or credit unions. In recent years, these records have largely shifted from paper-based statements to digital account histories. Consumers are usually able to see the information when they receive their monthly account statements, or when they log into the accounts online.
There is a growing array of services and companies that use consumers’ financial account information to provide analysis and other services to consumers. Consumers give specific companies the permission to access their financial records. These companies or their partners then use that authorization to gather account records and process the information. Companies that collect information on behalf of consumers from other providers are often called “data aggregators” or “account aggregators.” A range of companies use aggregators to offer various products and services.
Companies can use digital financial records to offer new products and services aimed at making it easier, cheaper, or more efficient for consumers to manage their financial lives. The services range from tax help to budgeting advice. Some services help consumers make spending decisions and manage their money on-the-go and in real time. Other services use information from consumers’ digital financial records to help underwrite loans or lines of credit.
Congress has recognized consumers’ growing need to obtain and use their digital account information. Specifically, the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act provides for consumer rights to access their financial records and account-related information, and specifies that this information “shall be made available in an electronic form usable by consumers.” The law also gave rulemaking authority over this area to the CFPB.
Today the CFPB is seeking to understand the full range of issues associated with how consumers access their financial records and how that information can be used. The CFPB wants to foster an environment where competing providers can securely obtain, with the consumer’s permission, the information needed to deliver innovative products and services that will benefit consumers. Specifically, the Bureau seeks information about the following issues:
- Consumer choice: Consumers should be able to access their financial records and have the choice to use that information for their own benefit. However, the Bureau has heard concerns about ways that financial institutions may make it difficult or impossible for consumers to allow others to access and use their digital financial records. Blocking access to digital financial records can prevent new companies from offering consumer-friendly innovation. It also reduces incentives for financial institutions to compete with new entrants and innovate. So the Bureau is seeking information on whether consumers are being given appropriate opportunities to access and allow others to securely access their personal financial records. The Bureau also wants to better understand what business burdens must be addressed to facilitate access and use of financial records.
- Security: Consumers who allow access to their financial records need to have confidence that their financial records are secure and that they will not fall into the wrong hands. But the Bureau has heard concerns from some financial institutions that providing third-party companies with access to records may compromise consumer privacy or put consumers’ funds and account relationships at risk. The CFPB’s inquiry asks about options for ensuring that financial records are securely obtained, stored, and used.
- Consumer control: Consumers who allow third-parties to access and use their financial records need to know and control how their records will be used by these parties. However, the CFPB has heard concerns that information and control are not uniformly provided across the market. The Bureau seeks information about what information consumers are given about how their records will be accessed and used. The CFPB’s inquiry also asks to what extent consumers are able to control how the information will be used by companies to which they give permission. The CFPB wants to know if consumers can limit the frequency and purpose of the companies’ access to their records, or request deletion of the records.
The comment period for the public inquiry will end 90 days after it is officially published in the Federal Register.
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) is a 21st century agency that helps consumer finance markets work by making rules more effective, by consistently and fairly enforcing those rules, and by empowering consumers to take more control over their economic lives. For more information, visit www.consumerfinance.gov.