The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) issued its first advisory opinion offering guidance on section 1034(c) of the Consumer Financial Protection Act (CFPA), which originally became effective in 2011. Section 1034(c) requires banks to reply for consumer requests for information and not charge them for customer service responses regarding their bank account. The CFPB calls charges such as these “junk fees.”
The issue stems from instances when the consumer needs to gather basic account information required for them to fix problems with their account or manage their finances. With today’s advisory opinion, the CFPB is seeking to stop large banks for charging their customers for requesting essential information they are entitled to under federal law. These “reasonable requests” include asking for original account agreements or information about recurring withdrawals from an account.
“While small relationship banks pride themselves on customer service, many large banks erect obstacle courses and impose junk fees to answer basic questions,” said CFPB Director Rohit Chopra. “While the biggest banks have abandoned the relationship banking model, federal law still requires them to answer certain customer inquiries completely, accurately, and in a timely manner.”
Who is impacted
The opinion applies to insured depository institutions and credit unions that offer or provide consumer financial products or services and that have total assets of more than $10 billion, as well as their affiliates.
What does it require
Banks and credit unions must comply with consumers’ requests for information regarding a financial product or service that they obtained from the institution. This includes supporting written documentation regarding customer accounts.
Because many households do not have a single, personal banker they can turn to for answers, they are often subject to phone trees and AI-powered chatbots to find information. As more banks attempt to save costs by swapping human agents for generative-AI-powered bots, some consumers may have to spend extra time sorting through irrelevant material and waiting on hold to get the answer they need.
“Large banks and credit unions possess information that is vital to meet these customer needs,” the advisory opinion states. “Too often, however, it can be difficult and time consuming for individual consumers to obtain a clear answer to questions or resolve an account issue.”
What is not included
While consumers have a right to receive information about their account, there are some expections. Banks and credit unions do not need to offer:
- Confidential information such as an algorithm used to derive credit or risk scores
- Information collected for the purpose of preventing fraud or money laundering
- Information required to be kept confidential by law
- Any nonpublic information, including confidential supervisory information
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