The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has proposed a new policy that allows consumers to include, for public viewing, narratives that add detail their complaints about financial products, services and firms in the agency's already controversial Consumer Complaint Database. Publishing these consumer narratives would “provide important context to the complaint, help the public to detect specific trends in the market, aid consumer decision-making, and drive improved consumer service,” the CFPB says

The CFPB began accepting complaints in July 2011. It currently accepts complaints on many consumer financial products, including credit cards, mortgages, bank accounts, private student loans, vehicle and other consumer loans, credit reporting, money transfers, debt collection, and payday loans. The database also includes information about the actions taken on a complaint by a company, whether the response was timely, and whether the consumer disputed the company's response. A consumer's identity and other personal information is not included in the data.

Complaints are listed in the database only after the company responds to the complaint or after they have had the complaint for 15 days, whichever comes first. While the allegations in the complaint are not verified, a commercial relationship between the consumer and the company is substantiated before a complaint is added to the database. To date, the Bureau has handled more than 400,000 complaints. An overview of complaints handled since the database was created, can be found here. In March 2013, database data was made public, allowing users to track, sort, search, and download information.

There are restrictions the CFPB will place on the public release of narratives. It will not publish a complaint narrative unless the consumer provides informed consent by affirmatively check a consent box. At least initially, only narratives submitted online would be available for the opt-in. Complaints would be scrubbed of information such as names, telephone numbers, account numbers, Social Security numbers, and other direct identifiers.

Companies will have the opportunity to post a written response that appears next to the consumer's story. This response would also be scrubbed of personal information. If a consumer decides at any time that he or she would like to withdraw consent to publish their narrative in the database, they will have the ability to do so, and the filing would be removed within three business days.

The CFPB will not publish any “consented-to narratives” for at least 90 days after the new policy is published in the Federal Register, giving companies additional time to learn about the new system.

The National Association of Federal Credit Unions is among those expressing its concern. ""We are concerned that this new policy may allow unsubstantiated information into the complaint resolution process," it said in a statement. "We believe such incomplete and unsubstantiated information will not only create an inaccurate picture of an institution, but it will also make the complaint process more complicated and confusing for consumers and institutions.”

Ongoing complaints about the database have included: that complaints are not verified by the CFPB; that complaints inform future CFPB regulations and examination procedures and are shared with state agencies; the threat of private litigation; the current inability for banks and others to properly use the CFPB data to benchmark against their peers; and that complaints triggered by third parties and outside vendors will reflect poorly on the firm that hires them.