Mulvaney Targets Consumer Bureau's 'Yelp'-Like Complaint Portal

Acting CFPB Director Mick Mulvaney

Acting CFPB Director Mick Mulvaney Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP

Acting director encourages bankers’ argument against posting unvetted criticism.

The acting director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is considering cutting off public access to the bureau’s Web portal containing raw consumer complaints against lenders.

Mick Mulvaney, who is also President Trump’s budget director, on Tuesday told 1,300 bankers at an American Bankers Association conference in Washington, “I don’t see anything in here that says I have to run a Yelp for financial services sponsored by the federal government,” according to news reports.

The bureau’s seven-year-old Consumer Complaint Database, which has long been criticized by bankers for spreading “unverified” negative information, is used by bureau analysts to monitor trends that need investigating and encourage engagement between customers and companies.

The database is a “real-time” collection of complaints on a range of consumer financial products and services, sent to companies for response. “We don’t verify all the facts alleged in these complaints, but we take steps to confirm a commercial relationship between the consumer and the company,” the bureau’s website says.

In 2013, the Financial Services Roundtable, an industry group led by former Minnesota Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty, launched a multi-media campaign accusing the bureau of spreading inaccurate information to consumers. “Government websites should be reserved for facts,” a statement said.

The bankers association in 2015 sought to negotiate new terms for the site, such as allowing the companies being criticized to post rebuttals. Its letter described the “business, legal, and reputational concerns that will discourage, if not prevent, banks from responding publically to consumer complaints.”

Consumer groups expressed wariness of the Trump administration agenda for CFPB. “As Acting Director Mulvaney made clear to the ABA, protecting the interests of those who have donated to him is what matters, not the CFPB’s mission of protecting consumers,” Amit Narang, regulatory policy advocate for Public Citizen, told Government Executive. “This means that any CFPB efforts that have been effective in protecting consumers, which the database certainly has been, but that have been opposed by Wall Street will be a target under Mulvaney.”

Mulvaney, who has made dramatic changes to alter the bureau’s direction and lighten regulation, also made news by telling the bankers that as a House member, he spoke to any visitor from his home district, but declined to speak to lobbyists who hadn’t given him money. “We had a hierarchy in my office in Congress,” Mulvaney said. “If you’re a lobbyist who never gave us money, I didn’t talk to you. If you’re a lobbyist who gave us money, I might talk to you.”