As the government's personal finance watchdog sets its sights on reducing complaints about credit cards, banking lobbyists warn that negativity could sour public perception of the industry. After nearly six months of listening to cardholder concerns via its website, Twitter accounts, and toll free phone number, officials at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau reported its findings about consumer satisfaction with credit cards.

In the CFPB's seven-page report, the agency notes that only about half of the communications it received resulted in formal complaints. Consumers mostly seem to crave an outlet to vent about general concerns related to how banks treat them. Billing complaints topped the list of official complaints, followed closely by concerns about interest rates and identity theft. Credit card issuers partnered with the CFPB on over 5,000 complaints during the survey period. The agency reports that nearly two-thirds of opened complaints have been reported as resolved.

Preparing for transparency in credit card complaint data

According to Sartaj Alag, CFPB assistant director for consumer response, the agency plans to turn its real-time feed of credit card complaints into an online database. In a posting to the CFPB's official blog, Alag wrote that the database would strip complaints of personally identifying information. Other consumers could review the database to make decisions about new credit card applications, while academics and policymakers could use the data to measure industry trends and patterns. Alag asked consumers to offer feedback about the proposal, emphasizing the system's plans for personal privacy.

Philadelphia attorney Barbara S. Mishkin offered her feedback on the corporate blog of Ballard Spahr, a law firm that handles represents many of the nation's largest banks and credit card companies. Mishkin suggested that the agency's proposal will help it meet a legal mandate to improve transparency among financial services providers. However, Mishkin also warned that a complaint database would only provide empirical data, overlooking a credit card issuer's positive traits and trends. Consumers have until the end of January to leave feedback about the CFPB's proposal.