Consumer watchdog bares it all; Banks complain

Richard Cordray, director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s website is now home to the country’s largest public database of consumer complaints.

When the CFPB posted 19,000 consumer complaints on its website last summer, people responded with infographics and iPhone apps to process the data. The bureau just upped the number of complaints to more than 130,000, and it’s asking for new tools.

CFPB Director Richard Cordray says consumers can use the database to compare financial companies, and banks can use it to improve their service.

“For us it informs our work,” he says. “If we’re getting a number of complaints on an issue that really brings it to our attention.”

The chart below was built using the CFPB's publicly-accessible database and includes a list of each individual complaint and what it was about.

More than half the complaints are about mortgages, and almost 60 percent of those are over loan modifications, collections or foreclosure. Almost 80 percent of bank account complaints are about checking accounts.

The CFPB checks whether consumers have relationships with the companies, but it doesn’t make sure the gripes are valid, and that bothers some bank trade groups.

“This is no different than having data dumped on how many sightings Elvis has had at McDonalds,” says Richard Hunt, president of the Consumer Bankers Association. “Let’s make sure this is verified information. That’s all we’re saying.”

The bureau says its open-data agenda is the way to the future, and this time it wants tweets from people who find interesting trends.

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