Consumer complaint process spurs more inquiries in ’17 to ombudsman’s office

Inquiries about the consumer complaint process of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) were up in nearly every category this year, the agency’s ombudsman’s office outlined in its annual report released Wednesday, following a trend in which inquiries of all types increased to the office in fiscal year 2017.

According to its 2017 Annual Report to the Director, the CFPB Ombudsman’s Office received increases in inquiries about the agency’s complaint process in the areas of administrative/technical concerns (20% of all inquiries received about the process, up from 19% in FY2016); customer service (15% in ’17, 11% in ’16); information about complaints (12% in ’17, 8% in ’16); and process questions (24% in ’17, 13% in ’16).

According the report, “Administrative or Technical Concerns” included concerns relating to the consumer’s user experience with the consumer complaint portal on and related technical concerns (such as difficulty in resetting passwords to access the consumer complaint portal). “Customer Service” related to communications or interpersonal issues experiences when interacting with the CFPB. The category “Information about Complaints” included instances where the inquirer wanted additional information about the inquirer’s particular consumer complaint submitted to the CFPB, such as complaint status.

“Process critiques,” the agency reported, actually declined in 2017, to 28% of all inquiries about the consumer complaint process (compared to 49% in 2016). The “critiques,” the report points out, are defined as those that include inquiries seeking clarification about the entire consumer complaint process or some aspect of it.

The report notes that mortgages were the financial product most commonly behind consumer complaint-related inquiries to the ombudsman’s office. “However, since FY2013, when we began providing this data element, the percent of mortgages underpinning consumer complaint-related inquiries to the Ombudsman has declined from 55% in FY2013 to 35% in FY2017,” the report states.

During that time period, the report points out, CFPB expanded the types of financial products and services for which consumers could submit consumer complaints, and updated the consumer complaint process itself.

For FY2017, the report states, mortgages again were followed by consumer complaint-related inquiries about credit products, a category including credit cards and non-mortgage lending such as student loans (25%), deposit products (14%), credit reporting (10%), and debt collection (5%). Other products underpinned approximately 10%of the inquiries, the report states.

Overall, the agency report states, inquiries to the ombudsman’s office were up 14% in 2017 (with 1,610 for the fiscal year), up from 2016 (with 1,412), but rising at a slower pace (inquiries were up last year 21% from the previous year).

The ombudsman’s office describes itself as an “independent, impartial, and confidential resource” with a mission to “to advocate for fair process in consumer financial protection.” The agency office says that it informally assists “in resolving process issues with the CFPB that are: mentioned in individual inquiries received from consumers, financial entities, their groups, and others; highlighted in interactions with groups; or observed by the Ombudsman.”

The agency’s charter states that the annual report is to be issued no later than Nov. 15 for the previous fiscal year, and is intended to highlight systemic issues and make recommendations for systemic change. According the agency charter, each report is reviewed by CFPB senior leaders 10 business days. “To maintain the Ombudsman’s independence, such review is not for concurrence purposes; except for questions of law, the Ombudsman’s Office determines which changes to include, if any,” the charter states.

CFPB Ombudsman’s Office 2017 Annual Report to the Director