The new interim leader of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau pledged to take action against firms that are slow to respond to customer complaints during the pandemic.
Consumers submitted 42,774 complaints to the CFPB portal in April 2020 as COVID-19 was spreading, the highest monthly tally ever. The CFPB received 187,547 complaints from Jan. 1, 2020 to May 31.
But in a blog post, acting CFPB Director Dave Uejio expressed concern that financial institutions have dragged their feet in addressing complaints, and said the agency was working on an upcoming report highlighting response issues. The bureau typically requires a financial company to respond to the consumer within 15 days of a complaint.
The bureau will specifically analyze disparities in how companies address complaints from minorities, he said Wednesday.
“Some companies have been lax in meeting their obligation to respond to complaints," Uejio wrote. "Consumer advocates have found disparities in some companies’ responses to Black, Brown, and Indigenous communities. This is unacceptable.”
Uejio warned that companies doing a poor job of responding to consumers will be identified in its annual consumer response report that typically gets released in the first quarter.
Uejio has wasted no time focusing on two areas in the early days of the Biden administration: consumers' financial hardships resulting from the coronavirus and racial equity issues.
The CFPB is also updating its web site and expanding its social media presence to reach more consumers, Uejio said.
"Elevating the voices of those consumers who are suffering due to the pandemic and from racial inequity is the most important way to ensure that the CFPB is doing the best we can for those who need our help the most at this moment in history," he said. "The Bureau must transition from treating consumer input as mere anecdotes or stories to a world in which the experience of our neighbors, our families, and our communities serve as crucial data that drives our policymaking."
The CFPB also is moving aggressively to rebuild and repair relationships with consumer, civil rights, racial justice, and tribal and Indigenous rights groups that have found gaps in how the bureau treats consumers.
“I have asked Consumer Response to prepare a report highlighting the companies with a poor track record on these issues," Uejio wrote. "We will be publishing this analysis and the senior leadership of these companies can expect to be hearing from me.”
Complaints about financial products and services — and any documents a consumer provides — are sent directly to financial firms that generally must respond within 15 days. The CFPB also refers some complaints to other federal agencies. The CFPB has traditionally used its complaint database to identify companies for enforcement actions.
During the pandemic, the bureau has issued bulletins analyzing thousands of complaints it has received mentioning coronavirus and related terms. Complaints about mortgages, credit cards and credit reports have topped the list during the pandemic.
In 2019, the bureau received 352,400 consumer complaints and 81% were sent to companies for review and response. In its report last year, the bureau said that more than 3,200 companies responded to complaints sent to them in 2019.
“It is the Bureau’s expectation that companies provide substantive responses that address the issues consumers describe in their complaints,” Uejio wrote.