Major Banks Largest Source of Consumer Bureau ComplaintsCarter Dougherty
Major banks including JPMorgan Chase & Co., Bank of America Corp. and Citigroup Inc. were the subjects of the largest number of complaints to the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau in 2011, according to data obtained through a public records request.
Bank of America accounted for about 13 percent of the 13,210 complaints, mostly about credit cards, to the bureau between July 21 and Dec. 31, 2011. JPMorgan and Citigroup each accounted for about 11 percent, Capital One Financial Corp. represented about 8 percent, and Wells Fargo & Co. accounted for about 5 percent. The number of complaints was roughly consistent with the size of the banks’ credit card business.
Complaints filed since June 1, 2012 will be made available to the public on its website today, the consumer bureau said in an e-mailed statement. Complaints from before then will be included later this year, it said.
“We intend to make this data widely available to consumers, advocacy groups, businesses, policy makers, and journalists,” Richard Cordray, the bureau’s director, said in a telephone news conference. “Anyone with access to the web will be able to review and analyze the information, and draw their own conclusions.”
The consumer bureau proposed a rule on Dec. 8 that would provide for public disclosure of data on credit card complaints that excludes consumers’ personal identification. The banking industry has objected to the publication of company names.
Steven Zeisel, the vice president and general counsel of the Consumer Bankers Association, wrote in a Jan. 30 comment letter on the proposal that disclosure would expose banks to “undue reputational risk and harm.”
“The inclusion of identifying information on institutions in a public database will likely only serve to provide one-sided, unsubstantiated views of consumer complaints,” Zeisel wrote.
The Dodd-Frank law of 2010 requires the consumer bureau to set up a complaint system, and gives it authority to make the data it collects public. The database will include the type of complaint, the complainant’s zip code, the name of the company, and a description of what action, if any, the company took in response, the agency said.
The database will not include information about the complainant’s identity, the bureau said. Complaints will only enter the system once the agency has verified the business relationship between the company and the consumer, it said.
The 2011 complaint data obtained under a public records request is roughly consistent with the banks’ status as the largest credit card issuers in the U.S. The top issuers by number of cards are JPMorgan, Bank of America, Citigroup, Discover Financial Services and American Express Co., according to a February 2012 data published by The Nilson Report, an industry newsletter.
“We’re always interested in customer feedback -- good and bad -- since we are focused on continuous improvement and providing a great customer experience,” said Capital One spokesman Pam Girardo.
Spokesmen for JPMorgan and Citigroup declined to comment, spokesmen for Bank of America and Wells Fargo did not respond to requests for comment.
In the 2011 complaint data, most of the entries -- 9,307 -- pertained to credit cards, while another 2,236 concern mortgages. The data does not include a “narrative” field that outlines the exact nature of a consumer’s grievance. It was exempted by the bureau to protect personal privacy. Instead, the complaints are categorized in general terms, such as interest rates, billing disputes or late fees.
The consumer bureau began accepting complaints on credit cards on July 21, 2011, and on mortgages the following Dec. 1. The data coincides with the period covered by the consumer bureau’s first annual report on its complaint system.
Complaints logged during that period received a response from the companies in question in 88.1 percent of the cases, according to the March 31 annual report. The companies reported closing more than 55 percent of the complaints “with relief,” which means the consumer got “objective, measurable, verifiable monetary value” as a result of action by the company, the report states.
The closing rate masks a large disparity between how companies treated complaints on credit cards and mortgages. Complaints were closed with relief in 64.1 percent in the credit card category, and 18.6 percent in the mortgage area.
In today’s statement, the consumer bureau said that it logged “more than 45,000” complaints through June 1, about 17,000 of which were about credit cards. Another 19,000 concerned mortgages, and about 6,500 dealt with checking accounts.
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