CFPB Uses Bully Pulpit on Overdraft, Checking Account Screening

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau today announced several actions and statements that it said would facilitate customer access to checking accounts. It wrote to large banks urging them to offer overdraft-free checking options and issued a bulletin reminding financial institutions of accuracy requirements when reporting customer information to checking history databases used to screen consumers.

“The vast majority of Americans do, in fact, have a relationship with a bank,” said ABA SVP Virginia O’Neill. “There is a wide variety of reasons why some people are not in the financial mainstream, and the thousands of banks of all sizes across the country actively offer a multitude of deposit products to meet diverse customer needs.”

The letter, sent by CFPB Director Richard Cordray to the CEOs of the 25 largest U.S. retail banks, emphasized that it “is not being sent in reference to any sort of regulatory requirement, but instead is simply a suggestion that I urge you to consider in serving your customers.” However, he urged banks to offer a “lower-risk” account, whether checking or prepaid, that would not permit overdrafts and thus would not preclude customers with a poor history of managing their accounts. “We urge banks and credit unions that do not currently offer transaction accounts designed to help consumers avoid overdrafts to do so,” he said.

“America’s banks are continually working on innovative technologies and services to bring consumers without a bank account into the fold,” O’Neill added. “We appreciate Director Cordray’s recognition of these efforts and remain dedicated to featuring a full range of product choices that can accommodate a number of diverse consumer preferences.”

Meanwhile, the bureau issued a compliance bulletin reminding those who furnish customer data to credit bureaus of their obligation to submit accurate information to all kinds of consumer reporting agencies. “This obligation, which has been required under Regulation V since July 2010, applies to furnishing to all CRAs, including furnishing to specialty CRAs, such as the furnishing of deposit account information to CRAs,” the CFPB said. “Furnishers must have policies and procedures that meet this requirement with respect to all CRAs to which they furnish.”

The bureau also released several consumer-oriented resources on selecting lower-overdraft-risk accounts, managing a checking account and accessing a checking account history with a consumer reporting company.