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Banking industry calls for revised complaints framework

A “one-stop shop” for complaints across all financial institutions should be implemented to more effectively manage customer complaints both internally and externally, a leader of the banking industry has said.

In an open letter to Ian Ramsay of the Independent Expert Panel, the Australian Bankers’ Association’s (ABA) chief executive officer, Steven Münchenberg, called for a review into the current framework of complaints handling and introduce one body to handle disputes or direct people where to go.

“Customers cannot be expected to understand and navigate the complexities of the current arrangements,” he said, highlighting the complexities behind the three external dispute resolution (EDR) bodies currently in place — the Financial Ombudsman Service, the Credit and Investments Ombudsman and the Superannuation Complaints Tribunal - which often have “overlapping jurisdictions as well as other state-based options for resolving disputes in the financial services sector”.

The implementation of a “one-stop shop”, however, would aim to provide customers of all financial institutions with the “simplest and easiest system” for the handling and resolution of disputes, showing consumers that “justice has been done”.

Speaking after the letter was issued, Mr Münchenberg said: “If there was one body to handle disputes or direct people where to go, this would help customers get their disputes resolved faster. It would also make the process easier as customers would know exactly who to contact for help.

“Whether we have an overarching gatekeeper or one ombudsman or a tribunal, the dispute resolution system should focus on ensuring that customers who can’t access the formal legal system can get a fair hearing, and that the system is easier for customers to use.”

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In his letter, Mr Münchenberg highlighted ABA research which showed that the Code Compliance Monitoring Committee recorded 1,226,093 complaints over the 2014/15 financial year, of which banks were able to resolve 92.9 per cent in fewer than five business days, and 1.1 per cent of complaints in more than 45 days.

He noted that effective and efficient complaint handling and resolution was “at the heart” of improving consumer outcomes, as well as increasing community trust and confidence in the financial services sector.

“It is critical that the EDR arrangements are open to all consumers who cannot readily and fairly access the formal legal system [and] the banking industry has committed to exploring a widening of access to EDR arrangements for customers and small businesses,” the ABA chief executive said.

“The overarching objective of the review should be to achieve a better integrated EDR framework that provides simple, accessible and efficient dispute resolution for customers and small businesses” he concluded.

[Related: Bank bosses admit shortcomings]

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