The Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection released an expanded consumer complaint database today. It contains more than 90,000 complaints made to the Bureau about credit cards, mortgages, bank accounts and services, student loans, and other consumer loans. The database includes basic information such as the affected product (mortgage, bank account, etc.), the issue (for example, "problems caused by my funds being low," loan modification), the name of the financial institution, and the disposition of the complaint. These complaints are not verified by the Bureau, and there is no way for a database user to assess whether the complaints have merit.
The Bureau, nevertheless, treats the list of complaints as if it is a key data set for understanding the financial markets and "support[ing] innovation in the consumer finance space." It has created a handful of charts and graphs based on the data and encourages members of the public to do the same. For example, the Bureau created a bar graph to show the top ten companies by number of complaints received. As a note at the bottom of the chart indicates, the chart is meaningless because "The data has not been normalized . . .companies with more customers could be expected to have more complaints." The release of unfiltered complaint data by company is misleading and indicative of an approach to regulation that is rooted in sensationalism, not careful analysis.