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Report on CFPB Reveals Transparency Issues

December 12, 2013

The office that hears and investigates complaints against the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) issued its second annual report. It revealed the typical issues facing a new regulatory agency. It also revealed that creditors that fall under the bureau’s jurisdiction aren’t the only ones calling for more transparency.

The CFPB Ombudsman’s Office is an independent resource designed to help resolve issues arising from the CFPB’s activities. It acts as a liaison between the bureau, consumers and creditors, and makes recommendations on how issues should be addressed. In its annual report, issued on Nov. 15, CFPB Ombudsman Wendy Kamenshine said her office continues to field criticisms about the consumer complaint process, as well as the CFPB’s transparency regarding its examination activities.

“The Ombudsman heard feedback from consumer and trade groups, as well as financial entities regarding how the CFPB shares information about its activities, events and services,” read the report, in part. “Stakeholders, overall, highlighted that the CFPB was accessible for meetings and to answer questions. At the same time, they indicated that standardizing certain processes regarding how the CFPB shares this information would be helpful.”

According to the report, the CFPB’s Consumer Response Team made several changes this year to provide consumers with more clarity regarding the consumer complaint process, including employing a question-and-answer  format. Still, the report said 7% of the issues the Ombudsman received this year were complaints related to the CFPB’s complaint call center. Issues included inaccurate capturing of consumer complaint information and poor interaction between the consumer and the call center. Consumers also complained that the call center could not produce requested information.

According to the report, the consumer complaint process accounted for 40%of the complaints received, followed by redirect-consumer response (when a consumer is redirected to another office or division under the CFPB) and disputing a financial entity’s response to a complaint at 10%. What consumers want are status updates on their complaints. They also want more information on how the CFPB can assist them when they do have a complaint.

“The Ombudsman highlighted specific areas where more information would be helpful, such as describing the bureau’s authority and the roles of the bureau’s divisions,” read the report. “Consumer Response shared that they are reviewing the information the contact center has available to ensure that team receives the necessary information to provide to callers.”

The report also delved into calls for transparency among financial institutions. Specially, financial entities want more clarity on how they can communicate concerns regarding the CFPB’s examination process. They also asked that the CFPB communicate what is expected from the financial institution during an examination.

“In December 2012, the CFPB Division of Supervision, Enforcement, Fair Lending and Equal Opportunity undertook a reorganization of Supervision to provide programmatic efficiencies in policy setting and examination processes,” the report noted. “The Ombudsman understands that the SEFL reorganization will address some of the examination process issues highlighted to the Ombudsman. Further, the Ombudsman understands the SEFL continues to refine its processes and incorporate best practices for examination.”

The Ombudsman also recommended the CFPB communicate with individuals included in the examination team. It also asked that the CFPB’s Information Request template clearly identify the Examiner-In-Charge as the financial entities’ point of contact regarding concerns during the examination period.

In addition, the Ombudsman recommended that the CFPB clarify what is expected of a financial entity during the examination process. This can be done, the report stated, by including citations from the examination manual in written communications, among other recommendations.

The report also highlighted a major change to the examination process the CFPB made on Oct. 10. The change involved the removal of enforcement attorneys from the CFPB’s examinations, which Kamenshine’s office didn’t support when it recommended their inclusion in examinations in last year’s report. But after a yearlong review by the CFPB’s SEFL division, the CFPB agreed to remove enforcement attorneys from onsite examinations.

“At the same time, we understand that enforcement attorneys will continue to be integrated on examinations through regular meetings with examination staff convened by supervision headquarters staff,” the report noted. “The Ombudsman now views the [fiscal-year 2012] recommendations on this topic as closed.”

The report also offered recommendation on how the CFPB can make itself more accessible to consumers and financial entities, including the development of an outreach strategy to engage internal and external stakeholders. It also offered suggested changes to the CFPB’s website to make it easier for both consumers and financial institutions to access needed information.

“To further focus our efforts going forward, this year the Ombudsman developed an 18-24-month strategic plan …,” the report stated. “The Ombudsman also looks forward to additional opportunities, such as this year’s visit to a financial entity’s operations and shadowing a CFPB examination, to build on our ability to assist consumers and financial entities that contract Ombudsman in the coming year.”

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