(Corrects title of Scott Pluta)
* Accounts for 20 percent of card complaints in last year
* Complaint data part of new consumer watchdog's mission
* Company says it takes all complaints seriously
By Rick Rothacker and Cezary Podkul
June 20 (Reuters) - Despite having less than 6 percent of the U.S. credit card market by purchase volume, Capital One accounts for about 20 percent of card complaints filed with the new federal consumer watchdog, according to a review of nearly a year's worth of data collected by the agency.
The lender is known for its aggressive attempts to woo new customers. Its "What's in your wallet?" ad campaign, featuring rampaging Vikings and the actor Alec Baldwin, is ubiquitous on television.
On Tuesday, the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau launched a new database that lets the public see complaint volume for credit card issuers.
For now, the public data only goes back to June 1. But via a public records request, Reuters obtained a fuller data set: all credit card-related complaints filed between the CFPB's opening on July 21, 2011 and May 15 of this year.
The data shows that of the 13,502 complaints filed in that period, 2,713 were lodged against Capital One, about 20 percent of all filings. That was about 300 more than the next-closest complaint subject, Citigroup, which has a market share of about 9.5 percent. US Bank had the lowest number of complaints among top-10 issuers: just 2.1 percent of the total.
Reuters excluded about 2,400 complaints where the CFPB did not identify the issuer against whom the complaint was being lodged, as well as duplicate complaints identified by the agency. If banks were identified in the 2,400 complaints, their respective share of complaints would change.
"We take all concerns and complaints very seriously. We're constantly working to improve, working directly with our customers to answer questions or resolve any issues they may have. Our goal is to exceed customer expectations," a spokeswoman for Capital One said on Wednesday.
In the most recent period, after June 1, Capital One's numbers actually ticked up slightly - Capital One accounted for 22 percent of all issues raised in the period.
A review of the data shows that Capital One doesn't just have the most complaints. The McLean, Virginia-based issuer consistently receives more complaints than peers.
In 10 of the 11 months for which complaint data is available, Capital One had the most complaints of any issuer, Reuters found. The bank averages about 20 percent of the monthly complaints received by the bureau. The next-closest issuer, the much larger Citigroup, averages about 17.5 percent.
Calculated another way, Capital One was the subject of 75 complaints per every 1 million credit cards in circulation, by far the highest among the largest issuers (Citigroup was second at 44 per million cards).
The largest category of complaints against Capital One was related to billing disputes or billing statements, followed by complaints related to interest rates, though the bureau's data did not offer any more specifics on the nature of those complaints.
Together those two categories accounted for more than a quarter of all the issues. Other major categories of complaint included unsolicited card issuance and credit reporting.
Scott Pluta, acting chief of staff for the Office of Consumer Response at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, declined to comment on Capital One's complaint levels when Reuters shared its analysis with him. However, he said disclosing the complaint data has a general benefit for consumers.
"Consumers can look at this complaint data and they can kind of fairly conclude that they will probably get a similar experience with this institution if they try to engage with a business relationship with them," Pluta said.
The agency plans to expand its online complaints data disclosure to other products, such as mortgages and private student loans, Pluta said. Plans are in the works to disclose the narratives of customers' complaints in an anonymous fashion.
Capital One got its start in credit cards and only entered the retail banking market in 2005. Through an aggressive expansion strategy, including the recent acquisition of online bank ING Direct, it is now one of the 10 largest retail banks in the United States.
In a 2011 J.D. Power study of credit card customer satisfaction, Capital One got one of the lowest scores of any major card issuer in the category of "problem resolution." Overall it ranked seventh of ten for customer satisfaction.
According to the Nilson Report, a closely tracked newsletter on the card market, Capital One had a 5.6 percent share of credit card purchase volume in 2011.
By way of comparison, American Express led the market with 25.3 percent of purchase volume, yet according to the CFPB it had just 847 complaints.
"What you're seeing with the data ... is really consistent with our experience over time," an AmEx spokeswoman said.
One of the industry's biggest arguments against the database, though, is that it is just complaints. Anyone can file a complaint, and the raw data does not take into account how valid a complaint is, whether it was resolved, or any other mitigating factors in the bank's favor.
The CFPB said it has taken steps to prevent manipulation of the standings, and that it was open to talking with banks on further measures. The new data being released after June 1 also shows whether the complaint was resolved.
That being the case, one consumer advocate said it should be used as a tool but not as a final arbiter.
"Mistakes happen," said Pam Banks, a senior policy counsel who covers finance issues for Consumers Union. Complaints "are an opportunity to address mistakes." (Reporting By Cezary Podkul in New York and Rick Rothacker in Charlotte; Writing by Ben Berkowitz in Boston; Editing by Alwyn Scott and Tim Dobbyn)