Equifax and Banking Arbitration Clauses

Many eyebrows were raised when Equifax’s arbitration clause came to light after the massive data breach that affected millions of Americans across the country. But as attentions have heightened around arbitration clauses included in the banking industry, it’s not looking good for consumers.

Last week, Vice President Mike Pence broke a tied vote in the Senate that answered the question posed by in Karl Frisch in The Hill “Do we protect hard-working Americans from predatory financial companies, or do we allow these companies to continue victimizing?” The tie break destroys the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s anti-forced arbitration rule that stopped banks from forcing consumers into closed-door arbitration instead of allowing consumers their day in court through class actions.

Despite outcry by a coalition of cross-party supporters for the rule, Senators voted against consumers, allowing banks and financial services to force consumers into backroom legal proceedings where they rarely come out ahead—and often lose money in the process of trying to defend their rights. The CFPB rule went into effect in July and the speedy timeline to repeal by Congress shows just how much clout the banking and finance industry has as a special interest in Washington.

In the Equifax data breach, the backlash was so widespread that the company waived their forced arbitration clause but consumers can’t expect this to happen in every case. Richard Cordray, the director of the CFPB, opined in a New York Times article that “a group lawsuit against Wells Fargo for secretly opening phony bank accounts was blocked by arbitration clauses that pushed individual consumers into closed-door proceedings.” Despite significant media attention and a huge number of individuals affected by Wells Fargo phony bank accounts, arbitration was still part of the process and ultimately stopped consumers from seeking full restitution for the harm Wells Fargo may have caused.

When it comes to the future of banking, consumer should understand that forced arbitration is likely to be included in their banking and finance products in the future. Most consumers don’t know about arbitration clauses, however, with 93% not understanding that arbitration clauses prevent them from suing. Arbitration clauses aren’t solely for banking and can even be included in employment contracts, notes LA Times’ David Lazarus. A number of cases about arbitration in employment contracts are also being heard in the Supreme Court that may affect the future of arbitration for consumers.

In the Equifax class action, speaking with an attorney about your options is an important step forward because consumers have the option to participate in a class action or sue individually. Our class action law firm is accepting new clients for the Equifax case so contact us today to talk about your options with an experienced consumer protection lawyer.