What to Know
- The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which reviews complaints against banks and lenders, is being dismantled
- The CFPB may remove public access to its database of more than 1 million complaints
- Public comment on changes to the CFPB ends tonight at midnight
Taxpayers have until midnight tonight to share concerns about an end to public access of a consumer banking complaint database -- the latest in a series of moves by the Trump Administration to dismantle the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
That watchdog agency, also known as the CFPB, was created in the aftermath of the 2007 - 2008 financial crisis. It takes and reviews complaints from consumers against banks, lenders, and other financial institutions. In some circumstances, the CFPB has levied fines and other punishments against banks for anti-consumer practices.
A public database of consumer complaints can be viewed on the CFPB website. It currently lists more than 1 million complaints -- with more than 8,000 of those originating in the Bay Area.
However, public access to the complaint database is not required by law. Acting CFPB director Mick Mulvaney has expressed skepticism of its value.
"I don't see anything in here that says I have to run a Yelp for financial services, sponsored by the federal government," Mulvaney said at a banking conference in April, as reported by The New York Times. "I don't see anything in here that says I have to make all of those [complaints] public."
The CFPB was praised by consumer advocates as a powerful tool to hold banks accountable and prevent abuse. Critics, including President Trump, have decried the CFPB as government regulation gone too far.
Since taking office, President Trump has ordered deep cuts in the agency's funding, and appointed his budget director Mulvaney as CFPB Acting Director. Mulvaney has taken steps to reduce the agency's consumer advocacy, halting actions taken against payday lenders and student loan providers.
Ingrid Evans, a San Francisco consumer attorney, says the CFPB should return to its mission as an important advocate for Americans.
"It is a travesty of justice that they are being defunded at this point," Evans told NBC Bay Area. "We need organizations like that to protect consumers. They were put in place after the financial crisis to protect consumers, and for them to be defunded and deregulated at this point is terrible."
Evans pushes back at the notion the CFPB was overreaching its mandate by publishing complaints and levying fines against banks.
"We know the banks engaged in a lot of irresponsible and improper behavior back in 2008 and before," Evans said. "We need CFPB to protect consumers, and for them not to have the money and resources they need to protect consumers is going backwards. It’s a travesty of justice. It is not serving consumers, and it is exactly where we should not be going."
Financial industry advocates disagree. The Consumer Bankers Association, a banking lobby, has praised Mulvaney's criticisms of the CFPB and its database.
"We fully support the Bureau fulfilling its important, Congressionally-mandated mission," the CBA said in an April 24 statement. "Compiling complaints is part of that, but publishing unverified complaints - or worse using those complaints to paint a picture of guilt in the public domain - is irresponsible. It is also inaccurate, as the Bureau's own report to Congress stated more than 90 percent of those complaints were addressed by financial institutions. Acting Director Mulvaney is right the government should not run a 'Yelp' for every American's financial life."
Comments for and against public access to the database can be shared here: https://www.regulations.gov/comment?D=CFPB_FRDOC_0001-0616
You can also submit comments by email, at FederalRegisterComments@cfpb.gov. The subject line should include the phrase Docket No. CFPB-2018-0014.