CFPB Issues Guidelines for Working With Limited English Proficiency Consumers

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has released a series of guidelines for companies in the financial services industry when dealing with individuals for whom English may not be their primary language. The guidelines echo a similar rule that was enacted last year in New York City, but stop short of requiring companies to adhere to the guidelines.

A copy of the statement on the “Provision of Financial Products and Services to Consumers with Limited English Proficiency” can be accessed by clicking here.

Determining policies and procedures when interacting with individuals for whom English might not be their primary language is a difficult tightrope for companies, including those in the accounts receivable management industry, to walk. Many companies may not have employees who are fluent in other languages and there are concerns about ensuring the any translation is accurate. There have been stories, for example, of collection agencies using services like Google Translate to convert letters into other languages, which could be problematic if not reviewed by someone who is fluent in that language.

New York City last year enacted a rule requiring debt collectors to inform consumers of the availability of language services that may be offered and a translation of any commonly used collection terms, among other requirements.

Among the guidelines offered by the CFPB are:

  • Use verifiable information, such as that from the U.S. Census Bureau, to determine which language(s) products and services should be translated into, based on the demographics of the region(s) served by the company.
  • Look at which products are used by its customers and which communications most significantly impact consumers.
  • Collecting and tracking language preferences in a way that does not violate any applicable laws.
  • Ensure the accuracy of any documents that are translated into other languages.
  • Fully document any decisions that are made and the reasons why they were made.
  • Monitor any products or services that are translated into other languages and update as needed.

The CFPB also advised financial institutions to monitor the products and services offered by third-party service providers working on behalf of the institutions.

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