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NR 2007-4
Contact: Bryan Hubbard
(202) 874-5770

Comptroller John C. Dugan Highlights Important Role Played by the OCC’s Consumer Complaint Function

WASHINGTON — Comptroller of the Currency John C. Dugan today highlighted the OCC's efforts to assist national bank customers with questions and complaints, and said the information gathered from that process has a direct impact upon bank supervision and bank retail practices generally.

"Fair dealing with customers and prompt resolution of their problems is, first and foremost, the bank's responsibility," and the OCC nearly always suggests that customers contact their bank first, the Comptroller said in a speech before the Exchequer Club and Women in Housing and Finance.

"Of course, that's not always possible, or the customer may already have done so without success," Mr. Dugan said. "That's when customers often turn to us. We receive as many as 70,000 contacts every year from bank customers with questions or complaints. They run the gamut from simple questions about grace periods or fees, to much more complex problems."

To address consumers' concerns more quickly and effectively, "We have invested literally millions of dollars in sophisticated technology both to aid in complaint intake and quality control, and to speed communications between the OCC and banks," Mr. Dugan said. In his presentation, the Comptroller used a series of animated slides to demonstrate the technology that the OCC's CAG specialists use in handling complaints.

"Even more important," the Comptroller added, "we have invested in the people" who are well trained with backgrounds in consumer law, compliance, and bank supervision.

In 1997, the OCC overhauled its customer assistance program and renamed it the Customer Assistance Group under the charge of the OCC's Ombudsman, who reports directly to the Comptroller. Over the last five years, the Comptroller noted, CAG has generated nearly $30 million in financial relief for national bank customers, including $7 million in 2006.

As important as CAG is to individual bank customers, its work also plays a prominent role in bank supervision.

"One important use is in the process of planning and adjusting examinations, both as to timing and focus, to better target areas of potential concern," the Comptroller said. "Examiners also use the information when developing their annual risk assessments of banks. And CAG staff may alert examiners if there are certain types of complaints that appear to warrant further attention or if they see patterns emerging in the overall complaint volume concerning a bank."

Other parts of the agency use CAG data as well. "Our policy shop has used it to help formulate guidance in areas such as use of third-party vendors, predatory lending, and credit cards," Mr. Dugan said. "And when we see individual complaints or patterns of complaints that could indicate inappropriate or unfair or deceptive practices, OCC lawyers are called in. We can and we have taken enforcement action to correct practices that we found to be unfair or deceptive."

While the OCC effectively and efficiently handles customer concerns once the issues reach the agency, the Comptroller acknowledged that customers face difficulty getting their concerns to the right regulator because it is difficult to know whether a depository institution is a bank or a thrift, or has a state or national charter.

"That's why I am so pleased that the OCC and the Conference of State Bank Supervisors agreed just two months ago on a model Memorandum of Understanding to facilitate the sharing of complaints between the OCC and state agencies," Comptroller Dugan said.

The MOU allows the OCC to direct non-national bank complaints to the appropriate regulatory agency, preserves customers' privacy, and allows state officials to get periodic reports regarding the disposition of complaints they refer to the OCC. New York was the first state to sign the MOU with the OCC followed by Arizona and North Dakota.

"My fervent hope and expectation is that other states will do the same in the weeks and months ahead," the Comptroller said.

The OCC Customer Assistance Group is available to answer questions from national bank customers from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., Eastern time, Monday-Friday, at 1-800-613-6743, or by sending an e-mail to Customer.Assistance@occ.treas.gov.

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