BPI, ABA and CBA Respond to Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Request for Comments on Relationship Banking and Customer Service

To Whom it May Concern:

The Bank Policy Institute,[1] the Consumer Bankers Association,[2] and the American Bankers Association[3] appreciate the opportunity to submit comments to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau in response to the request for information “related to relationship banking and how consumers can assert the right to obtain timely responses to requests for information about their accounts from banks and credit unions with more than $10 billion in assets, as well as from their affiliates.”[4]

Executive Summary

The provision of the Dodd-Frank Act on which the CFPB relies to issue the RFI—section 1034(c)—states that banks “shall, in a timely manner, comply with a consumer request for information” concerning the consumer financial product or service that the consumer obtained from the bank.[5] Section 1034(c) is not a customer service provision and does not authorize the CFPB to regulate customer service or set the terms of how, when, or where banks serve their customers. The CFPB would exceed the authority Congress gave the agency were it to attempt to do so.

Banks of all sizes take very seriously the important role they play in the financial lives of consumers, families, businesses, communities, and the nation’s economy. Banks provide products and services that help consumers meet their financial needs, and they are continuously innovating to better serve customers in this highly competitive marketplace. To ensure customers with diverse needs and preferences are able to take full advantage of the products and services banks offer, banks serve customers through a variety of channels, including at branches, online, through mobile applications, and over the telephone.

Although the CFPB has styled its action as a Request for Information, the RFI strongly suggests that the CFPB has already drawn conclusions regarding the level of customer service that banks provide to consumers. The RFI implies that banks’ use of technology to better serve consumers leads to less personal and suboptimal customer service and is a departure from “relationship banking.” The RFI does not define this term but Director Chopra, in his remarks introducing the RFI, describes “relationship banking” as being characterized by reliance on face-to-face interactions and other activities at brick-and-mortar branch locations, as compared with the provision of customer service through telephone, online, or other technologically advanced platforms.[6] In the press release issued in connection with the RFI, the CFPB characterizes the RFI as “part of a broader effort to restore relationship banking in an era of consolidation and digitization [as t]he decline of relationship banking has deprived some consumers of customized advice, responsiveness, and care.”[7]

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 as they navigate the financial services marketplace and is likely to confuse them. As is demonstrated in the body of this response, banks provide high levels of customer service and are subject to robust and extensive oversight and regulation, including but not limited to, rigorous oversight by the CFPB and one or more of the federal banking agencies. Yet, the mischaracterizations and predetermined conclusions in the RFI could give consumers the false impression that banks provide poor customer service and that customers’ demonstrated trust in banks is misplaced.

Consumers have the power to determine for themselves whether the customer service they receive from their bank is acceptable and to decide who gets their business. Consumers understand how they want to be treated and the value they place on that treatment in selecting their financial services providers. Simply put, banks compete on customer service.

To read the full comment letter, click here, or click on the download button below.

[1] BPI is a nonpartisan public policy, research and advocacy group, representing the nation’s leading banks and their customers. Our members include universal banks, regional banks and the major foreign banks doing business in the United States. Collectively, they employ almost 2 million Americans, make nearly half of the nation’s bank originated small business loans and are an engine for financial innovation and economic growth.

[2] CBA is the only national trade association focused exclusively on retail banking. Established in 1919, the association is a leading voice in the banking industry and Washington, representing members who employ nearly two million Americans, extend roughly $3 trillion in consumer loans, and provide $270 billion in small business loans.

[3] The American Bankers Association is the voice of the nation’s $24 trillion banking industry, which is composed of small, regional and large banks that together employ more than 2 million people, safeguard $19.9 trillion in deposits and extend $11.4 trillion in loans.

[4] Request for Information Regarding Relationship Banking and Customer Service, 87 Fed. Reg. 36,828 (Jun. 21, 2022).

[5] 12 U.S.C. 5534(c)(1).

[6] Bureau of Consumer Fin. Prot., Prepared Remarks of CFPB Director Rohit Chopra in Great Falls, Montana on Relationship Banking and Customer Service (Jun. 14, 2022), https://www.consumerfinance.gov/about- us/newsroom/prepared-remarks-of-cfpb-director-rohit-chopra-in-great-falls-montana-on-relationship-banking-and- customer-service/.

[7] Bureau of Consumer Fin. Prot., CFPB Launches Initiative to Improve Customer Service at Big Banks (Jun. 14, 2022), available at https://www.consumerfinance.gov/about-us/newsroom/cfpb-launches-initiative-to-improve- customer-service-at-big-banks/.