Banking trade groups are challenging a request for information (RFI) issued by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) regarding customer service at large financial institutions. In a joint letter dated August 22, the Bank Policy Institute, Consumer Bankers Association, and the American Bankers Association objected to the CFPB’s insinuation that big banks are providing a sub-par customer experience and challenged the CFPB’s authority to regulate customer service.

“Customer service is an important and essential priority for banks. The CFPB’s statements in the RFI unfairly characterize the quality of customer service provided by banks and appear to reflect the CFPB’s pre-determined conclusions that banks do not provide high quality customer service. This approach is unhelpful to consumers … and is likely to confuse them.” The groups cite to recent studies reporting high overall customer satisfaction to support their claim.

The letter takes aim at the CFPB’s authority under the Dodd-Frank Act, noting that it says nothing about customer service or relationship banking and does not “grant the CFPB the authority to dictate, via regulation or otherwise, the type of customer service banks provide or the manner in which they provide service.” Although the CFPB maintains its authority under Section 1034(c) of the Dodd-Frank Act, which requires depository institutions with more than $10 billion in assets to provide timely responses to consumers requests for information about a financial product or service that the consumer obtained from the depository institution, the groups dispute the CFPB’s asserted authority under this section, stating “a bank’s obligation to provide a consumer particular information or data ‘in a timely manner’ in response to a specific request for such information is very different from an obligation to serve customers on particular terms or in a certain manner more generally … it appears that the CFPB is attempting to use this RFI to create a legal authority that it does not have: the right to dictate the type of customer service banks provide and the manner in which they do so.”

The groups also challenge the notion that the embrace of technology by financial institutions has led to a decrease in customer satisfaction, stating that the RFI “creates the false impression that the adoption of digital banking tools diminishes customer service. In reality, consumer demand drove banks to develop these tools and continued and increasing demand has encouraged banks to retain and grow these platforms.”

In the RFI published in late June, the CFPB invited comments from the public regarding what customer service obstacles consumers face in the banking market, and specifically, what information would be helpful for consumers to obtain.

Troutman Pepper will continue to monitor important developments involving the CFPB and the banking customer relationship RFI and will provide further updates as they become available.