Visualizing Maine Bank Complaints

If you haven’t yet, go read this article by Andy O’Brien about the Oathout family in Liberty and their long battle to save their house from fraudulent foreclosure. Also featured is Tim Cox, the lawyer who has waged a national campaign against the corrupt methods of the mortgage industry from his desk at Pine Tree Legal Assistance in Maine.

The unethical practices of the financial industry were the cause of the recession, but Wall Street has almost entirely escaped responsibility. Executives at large financial institutions have avoided prosecution, the banks were bailed out with federal money and the new federal regulations have mostly been stalled or watered-down and made ineffectual.

Even the recent $3.6 billion settlement for fraudulent foreclosures works out to be a pittance of just $300-$1,000 for 80% of the families who were wronged.

What’s worse, the banks have been allowed to claim those fines as tax deductions. That means that this year Bank of America, among others, will once again pay no corporate federal income taxes at all. In fact, they’ll get a tax refund of $1.12 billion. Happy tax day.

There is one good thing, however, that came out of the aftermath of the financial collapse and the Dodd–Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, (the one major regulatory bill that made it through Congress): the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

The Bureau is meant to oversee and regulate everyday financial transactions and protect consumers from the worst excesses of banks, credit card issuers, payday lenders and mortgage firms. Republicans attempted to limit the operations of the organization by denying the appointment of Elizabeth Warren as its first director. Warren, a bankruptcy expert who had proposed the office and helped to set it up, instead decided to run for the U.S. Senate, where she is currently being awesome.

Senate Republicans and Wall Street also opposed the nomination of President Obama’s next choice to lead the Bureau, Richard Cordray. Without a director, the legislation creating the Bureau limits its rulemaking ability and scope of oversight. Obama eventually made Cordray director in a recess appointment.

It is thanks to the CFPB that we can begin to get a broader view of what’s happening in Maine in terms of consumer mortgages and financial services. Recently (over the strong objections of the banks) the Bureau released a dataset describing more than 90,000 complaints it has received from across the country, tagged by zip code. By extracting the complaints from Maine, we can get an idea of where and how people here are continuing to encounter problems with financial institutions.

Here’s a map of the complaints in Maine. Yellow pins represent zip codes with one complaint, red pins are multiples. Click on each to see the companies and financial products that are the subjects of complaints. 96.7% of complaints originating in Maine were responded to promptly by the financial institution, according to the CFPB data.

Here’s a chart showing the complaints by company. I don’t have comparison numbers on how many financial transactions each of these institutions is issuing, but these raw numbers are interesting in and of themselves. Bank of America is far and away the subject of the most complaints in Maine at 27.7% of the total. TD Bank, Wells Fargo, Citibank, JPMorgan Chase and Capitol One each account for between 6% and 9% of the total, with smaller percentages for many other companies (hover for details).

Here’s my attempt to represent the web of financial complaints, by company and financial instrument. Hover over the dots to see the connections. As you can see, some companies like Bank of America operate in several financial sectors and have registered complaints in all of them. Others, like the Maine Educational Loan Authority, operate in only one and have been the subject of only a small number of complaints.

Finally, here’s a chart showing outcomes. 28.6% of complaints were resolved with some form of monetary or other relief for the complainants.

As is so often the case with transparency measures, just making this information public is already having a positive effect. According to Bloomberg, complaint response times have sped up by 3% since the database came online and the number of credit card cases resolved in clients’ favor has risen 12.9% in the past six months.

Mike Tipping

About Mike Tipping

Mike writes about Maine politics and policy with a focus on analysis and explanation. He works at the Maine People's Alliance and Maine People's Resource Center, writes a political column for the Portland Press Herald