CFPB official says agency needs more clarity in processes

An official at the federal watchdog agency tasked with ensuring that consumers have more protections when they deal with the various financial products in their everyday lives recently released a report about the organization's internal processes, and found that in general it needs to do more to clarify how they work as far as borrowers are concerned.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau dealt with thousands of complaints from Americans since it first opened, and the vast majority were about the various lines of credit they deal with on a daily basis, but another large number came in the form of complaints about specific processes related to the agency itself, according to an annual report from Wendy Kamenshine the CFPB's ombudsman. Many of the "individual inquiries" the ombudsman's office received since it began operations about 10 months ago, related to trying to find greater clarity in the various complaint reporting mechanisms the agency has in place.

"An ombudsman's greatest challenge is to have the ear of the organization as the ombudsman  advocates for a fair process," Kamenshine wrote in the report. "The CFPB is a truly unique space where people at all levels and  in all roles are receptive to feedback, suggestions, and recommendations as they review existing Bureau processes and develop new ones. As the CFPB Ombudsman's Office begins  our new reporting year, my team and I look forward to continuing the conversation as we  seek to ensure a fair process for consumers and providers of consumer financial products  and services as they interact with the CFPB."

The vast majority of inquiries
In all, the ombudsman's office received 775 inquiries in the time since it opened its doors, and more than 80 percent were from consumers who had questions or complaints about the CFPB's various areas of jurisdiction, the report said. These included the various processes, services, products and entities over which the agency has authority.

Those made to the ombudsman stemmed from some 79,000 complaints and 61,000 inquiries to the agency's Consumer Response arm itself, the report said. But within the nearly 800 individual inquiries, consumers raised slightly more than 1,000 separate issues. Specifically, these were related to everything from the agency's consumer response tactics to the ways in which it supervises banks and nonbanks, and enforces actions against them. Many also had issues related to interactions with the agency itself, as issues related only to the consumer complaint process accounted for 40 percent of all those received by the ombudsman's office. Many of those advocated for increased transparency in the processes related to filing complaints with the agency itself.

Other inquiries
As one might imagine, though, more than just consumers reported issues to the ombudsman, the report said. The remaining 20 percent or so came from other organizations or individuals, with those from a business person accounting for the next-largest portion at 4 percent. Those from bank or nonbank contacts made up 3 percent, and others, such as those from attorneys and representatives, groups, job applicants, the media, CFPB employees and so forth accounted for less than 3 percent each at most.

What might be done
Because the large portion of issues raised by any individual or organization which contacted the office were related to the ways in which the agency deals with complaints (whether it's the time periods such a process should last, what should happen during that process, why some aren't valid, and so forth), the ombudsman recommended that the agency do more to provide information to the general public about these processes, the report said. A large part of that should include doing more to clarify what it can and cannot do for the average consumer, and in what instances. And while it acknowledged that the agency has done more to allow callers to better understand these situations circumstances, more can be done to increase education prior to phone contact.

This could also be applied to the letters it sends to consumers following their filing a dispute, the report said. Some complained that the letters they received about judgments for complaints they filed were not clear enough, particularly if the CFPB relayed that it could simply not assist the person with their problem.

While the CFPB can certainly help consumers deal with many financial issues, there are some responsibilities a borrower must take on for themselves. This can include checking their credit reports regularly to make sure there are no unfair markings dragging down their credit score. If any such entries are discovered, it may be a good idea to work with a credit repair company to clarify these issues so that they can return their standing to where it should be.

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