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Consumer Complaints: A Look at the CFPB’s Monthly Report

The Consumer Finance Protection Bureau (or CFPB) was created as part of the Dodd-Frank financial reform package. The CFPB serves as a financial services watchdog and helps consumers resolve problems with banks, debt collectors and credit reporting agencies. To learn what consumers are complaining about, BankScoop™ has begun to review the CFPB’s complaints data. The most recent report was released on December 22, 2015 so we’ll start with that one.

Please note that some have criticized the CFPB data as flawed, inaccurate and downright wrong. While there are problems, we believe the data will become more valuable over time. But, because the report has some shortcomings, we will make reasonable corrections as needed.

The December report covers complaints from November but also uses data for prior months. To avoid confusion, we’ll point out the month(s) being reported in our chart titles and captions. We’ll also compare the current data to the June 2015 report (the first report in the series).

The monthly report is divided into three main sections:
Section 1 – Complaint Volume (by product, state, and company)
Section 2 – Product Spotlight (a different product profiled each month)
Section 3 – Geographic Spotlight (a different state profiled each month)

We’ll just explore the first section this month. Section 1 breaks out consumer complaints by product/service, by region and by company. Let’s start with products/services.

Consumer Complaints by Product/Service

The top three products/services complained about in November 2015 were Student Loans, Debt Collection and Mortgages. They comprised 31%, 19% and 19% of total complaints, respectively. These top three products/services are the same as in the June 2015 report. In June, Student Loans, Debt Collection and Mortgages comprised 32%, 20% and 19% of total complaints, respectively.

CFPB Nov 2015 Rept Complaints by Prod
CFPB Nov 2015 Report Complaints by Product/Service © 2016 BankScoop™

The bottom three products/services complained about in November 2015 were Bank Account or Services, Money Transfer and Other Financial Services comprising 1% of total complaints, each.

The bottom three products/services are the same as in the June 2015 report where they each comprised 1% of total complaints.

Consumer Complaints by State/District

Because populations vary widely from state to state, total complaints per state is misleading. We’ll therefore use the normalized data (complaints per 100,000 population).

The top three states/districts for complaints in November 2015 were Washington DC, Delaware and Maryland with 674, 433 and 390 complaints per 100,000 population, respectively.

CFPB-Nov-Rept-Complaints-per-100k-by-State-2015-11
CFPB Complaints per 100,000 Population, by State 2015-11 © 2016 BankScoop™

The top three states/districts are the same as in the June 2015 report (the first CFPB report) where Washington DC, Delaware and Maryland had 577, 371 and 333 complaints per 100,000 population, respectively.

The bottom three states/districts for complaints in November 2015 were North Dakota, Iowa and West Virginia with 99, 113 and 117 complaints per 100,000 population, respectively. The bottom three states/districts are the same as in the June 2015 report (the first CFPB report) where North Dakota, Iowa and West Virginia had 81, 96 and 97 complaints per 100,000 population, respectively.

The regions with the highest per-capita complaints are the District of Columbia and two of its neighboring states–Delaware and Maryland. This would suggest that awareness of the CFPB is highest in the regions with the highest concentration of federal government and CFPB employees. We’ll watch to see if this disturbing anomaly subsides over time.

Consumer Complaints for the Top Ten Most Complained About Companies

The CFPB uses a 3-month average for complaints by company. The current report shows the period July – September, 2015. Apart from the age of the data, there are two big problems with this part of the report. First, it does not factor in the size of the company–It shouldn’t surprise anyone to see that larger companies get more complaints than smaller companies. Second, it does not take into account differences in industry–credit reporting, consumer banking and credit card companies are very different from one another and would have differing numbers of complaints. Here are the numbers in graphical form.

CFPB-Nov-2015-Rept-Jul-Sept-Complaints-by-Prod
CFPB Nov 2015 Rept Jul-Sept Complaints by Company © 2016 BankScoop™

Let’s look more closely at the four banks listed in the “Top Ten Most Complained About…” list. They happen to be the largest four banks in the country. For context, here is a pie chart showing the 2015 market shares of Bank of America, Wells Fargo, JP Morgan Chase, Citibank and all others:

Bank Market Shares 1Q 2015
Bank Market Shares 1Q 2015 © 2016 BankScoop™

Considering their large size, we can expect the number of complaints about these banks to be large as well. In fact, we could assume that complaints about each of these banks should roughly equal their market share. But, before we can make that comparison, we need to strip out non-bank product complaints from the CFPB data so we can compare apples-to-apples. Here’s a chart showing the breakout of complaints about the largest banks as a percent of total bank product complaints (credit reporting and alternative financial services complaints have been removed):

CFPB Nov 2015 Rept Jul-Sept % Complaints by Bank
CFPB Nov 2015 Rept Jul-Sept % Bank Product Complaints by Bank © 2016 BankScoop™

Breaking the data this way, we see that the four banks that have 54% of the consumer banking market are the target of 60% of consumer bank product complaints. More interesting is the fact that Bank of America and Wells Fargo appear to have more complaints than their market share would indicate while Chase and Citibank appear to have fewer complaints than we would expect. That observation makes it just wrong for the CFPB to label them as part of the “Ten Most Complained About Companies”

Only time will tell if the CFPB data quality will improve, but for now we can’t determine with certainty whether the biggest banks are better or worse than other banks.

Summary

The vast number of consumer complaints to the CFPB relate to credit issues–76% of complaints appear to be about credit products and credit reporting and 19% are regarding debt collection. Other financial services (money transfer, etc.) account for 2% of total complaints while complaints about checking and savings accounts were just 1% of the total.

Complaints about checking and savings accounts were just 1% of the CFPB total.

Geographically, the highest complaining regions were Washington DC, Delaware and Maryland with complaints per 100,000 population of 674, 433 and 390, respectively. Complaints for the rest of the country averaged 197 per 100,000 population. It would appear that CFPB employees, their families and friends are driving artificially high complaint volume in those regions.

Lastly, the CFPB’s Top Ten Most Complained About Companies data doesn’t tell us much because it doesn’t consider company size or other differences (banks are lumped in with credit reporting agencies, monoline credit card companies, mortgage servicers and alternative financial services providers like payday lenders and money transfer businesses).

Even with the flaws, it is helpful to see which products are being complained about and which regions generate the most complaints. BankScoop™will continue to monitor future CFPB monthly complaint reports and strive to draw meaningful conclusions from them.

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Written by BankScoop

BankScoop editors provide insightful commentary on important topics and stories of interest. Wherever possible, we attribute linked materials to their sources. If you would like to contribute content to BankScoop, contact us at admin@bankscoop.com.

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