Big banks, credit unions, to be under microscope for how they provide access to customer service

How customers and members of big banks and credit unions may assert their rights to better customer service is the stated aim of an initiative announced Tuesday by the federal consumer financial protection agency, the first time the agency has pursued such an approach.

In particular, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) said, it wants data and information about consumer experiences with “obstacles” preventing them from receiving high standards of customer or member service and “high-quality human interactions with their banks or credit unions.”

The agency asserted that under the 2010 Consumer Financial Protection Act, consumers have the right to obtain written documentation about their account from a large bank or credit union with more than $10 billion in assets. “Financial institutions covered by this provision must comply with customer requests for information in a timely manner,” the agency stated.

To date, the CFPB has not enforced or issued additional policy guidance under this legal provision, the bureau stated.

“Many large financial institutions are increasingly shifting toward algorithmic banking and away from relationship banking,” the CFPB said in a release. “Today’s initiative is part of a broader effort to restore relationship banking in an era of consolidation and digitization.”

The bureau asserted that the decline of relationship banking has deprived some consumers of customized advice, responsiveness, and care. “Customers report a struggle to obtain basic information and poor customer service, including that it takes too long to get problems solved, that they have to repeat information to multiple people, and that employees aren’t knowledgeable about their situation,” the agency claimed.

The agency said it is focusing on collecting information that questions in five areas:

  • What information do people request from their bank and how are they using that information? What information are consumers currently unable to obtain from their bank?
  • Does how a person contacts their bank make a difference in their ability to get information? For example, is there a difference if they visit in person, call or go online?
  • Are there customer service obstacles that inhibit their ability to bank?
  • Is there value in banks disclosing who they share account information with, or compensation they may receive for sharing that information?
  • What do bank customers experience in terms of wait times, disconnected calls, the ability to speak to a person at a specific location, or the quality of responses to questions?

Comments about the initiative are due in 30 days after publication in the Federal Register.

CFPB Launches Initiative to Improve Customer Service at Big Banks