contractOn June 25, 2015, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s (CFPB’s) Consumer Complaint Database went live to provide the general public with enhanced access to consumer complaints. Since March 2015, complainants have been able to elect to openly air their grievances by publicizing searchable, narrative descriptions of their complaints in the CFPB database. According to the CFPB, more than half of the consumers lodging complaints have elected to publicize their complaints. Included in the new database is information regarding the timeliness of the company’s response to the complaint, the company’s public response, and whether the complainant disputed the company’s response. To date, nearly 8,000 complaints are included in the new database.

Dating back to June 2012, the public has had access to high-level, anonymous information regarding complaints received by the CFPB. Such information included the date of the complaint, the type of consumer product at issue, the issue classification, the sub-issue classification, the company criticized in the complaint, and the state and zip code of the complainant’s residence. At this writing, more than 400,000 consumer complaints dating back to December 1, 2011, have been indexed.

According to the CFPB, this new database is designed to: (i) provide context for customer complaints, (ii) allow users to spot trends, (iii) permit consumers to make informed decisions, and (iv) encourage companies to improve their own processes and systems.

In the months leading up to the launch of the new database, interested parties were invited to comment on the change. Several companies cited concerns regarding a number of issues including: (i) reputational harm from unverified narratives, (ii) effects on consumer relations, (iii) an appearance that the CFPB was validating potentially unsupported complaints, (iv) potential consumer confusion, (v) lack of context, (vi) “increased litigation, either through potentially ‘defamatory’ narratives posted by consumers or as a result of additional information available to prospective plaintiffs,” and (vii) increased costs to the companies and CFPB to address complaints. See Disclosure of Consumer Complaint Narrative Data, Docket No. CFPB-2014-0016. While the CFPB dismissed these concerns, companies should be aware that customer complaints and company responses will now be readily available to the public at large, including consumer attorneys and potential customers.