Consumer "Protection"

More Adventures In Consumer “Protection”

The CFPB’s gossip column (which we’ve previously blasted) got a recent fisking from George Mason University scholars Hester Peirce and Vera Soliman. They point out several inconvenient truths about The Adjustment Bureau’s plan to expand the scope of a public rag sheet where anyone and his second cousin Luigi can anonymously lambaste, in narrative form, any financial business in the Milky Way with unverified snark of various flavors. You know, just like what we like to do here at Bank Lawyer’s Blog.

Peirce and Soliman make the following criticisms:

  • There is not a market failure that would justify the public database (it’s a solution in search of a problem). “There may be a powerful consumer demand for sharing bad experiences, but a private complaint database provider can more effectively satisfy that demand.”
  • It’s a costly enterprise whose purported value does not justify the added expense.
  • “By publishing a database of unverified, redacted (to remove personally identifiable information) consumer complaints, the Bureau would entice consumers to rely on incomplete and potentially inaccurate information—exactly the type of practice the Bureau seeks to stop financial firms from engaging in.”
  • Financial institutions will suffer financial harm from unverified complaints that they cannot effectively rebut, given the ridiculously short response time (15 days) and inability to publicly identify the accuser.
  • The Bureau lacks legal authority to establish the database.
  • The Bureau’s argument that other agencies publish similar databases lacks argumentative “heft.” “[B]ad practices at one agency do not justify bad practices at another.” Moreover, some of those databases provide protections regarding verifiability that the Bureau’s will not.

Based upon the CFPB’s initial responses to comments it’s received about the proposal, don’t expect the CFPB to back down from this bad idea. After all, the CFPB has been fairly clear in recent public pronouncements that while technically it’s mandate may be to prevent and remediate “unfair, deceptive or abusive” practices, what really revs its engine is “improving customer service.” It’s not enough to prevent fraud. The Adjustment Bureau is all about improving the “quality” of customer service. It doesn’t believe that the free market can adequately manage that aspect of an agenda that requires that life be hassle free, at least if you’re not a financial institution. From that perspective, a government-sponsored consumer gossip column makes all the sense in the world.

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