The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau proposed Thursday to restrict the use of mandatory arbitration clauses used by banks in their contracts with consumers to settle disputes about loans and other institutional products.
The Securities and Exchange Commission and Finra leaders have talked about doing the same for financial advisors and broker-dealers, but have taken no action.
The bureau’s proposal would bar a bank from requiring a customer to agree not to participate in class action suits as a precondition to getting a loan or another bank service.
The bank, however, would be able to force the customer not to file an individual lawsuit.
Mandatory arbitration clauses were barred in residential mortgage contracts six years ago by the Dodd-Frank Act.
Christine Hines, a consumer activist who is a panelist on a bureau forum on the proposal, said class actions are more important for consumers dealing with banks than those dealing with financial advisors and broker-dealers.
Hines, the legislative director for the National Association of Consumer Advocates, noted class actions may be the only way many consumers can right a wrong with a bank because the infraction can also involve a small sum on the order of $20 to $30, which would make lawyer fees out of the question.
Yet the complaints a consumer has with a bank might be the result of a bank practice affecting tens of thousands, which brings the sums involved attractive to lawyers for joint suits.
On the other hand, said Hines, it may be practical and desirable for a retail investor who has felt wronged to file an individual suit, which banks can still bar.
Individual suits are better for mom and pop financial advisor customers for a couple of reasons, said Hines.