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AFCA appoints small business ombudsman

AFCA has announced the appointment of a former Victorian Small Business Commissioner as its first dedicated small business ombudsman.

Geoff Browne, who was the Victorian Small Business Commissioner from 2011 to 2016, has been appointed by the Australian Financial Complaints Authority (AFCA) as its lead ombudsman for small business.

AFCA chief executive and chief ombudsman David Locke said the appointee will ensure the external dispute resolution (EDR) body “places the needs of small businesses front and centre in all [its] work”.

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“The appointment of Geoff Browne to this key role at AFCA is positive both for the small business community and AFCA. Geoff has played an important role in improving dispute resolution outcomes for small businesses for many years and brings firsthand knowledge of the challenges facing small businesses,” Mr Locke said.

“AFCA recognises the importance of small businesses, and the final report from the Hayne royal commission clearly demonstrates how devastating it can be when they have financial disputes that are not fairly resolved.”

Mr Browne, who was also previously the deputy director at Consumer Affairs Victoria, declared his commitment to the small business sector to ensure “fair solutions to financial complaints” are delivered by AFCA.

AFCA, which launched in 1 November 2018, was described by chair Helen Coonan as not just a consolidation of three EDR schemes (i.e. the Financial Ombudsman Service, the Superannuation Complaints Tribunal and the Credit and Investments Ombudsman), but rather a “new vision”.

She explained in November last year that the EDR body, compared to its predecessors, has a “significantly expanded jurisdiction” in that it is able to consider complaints by 98 per cent of Australia’s small businesses due to its updated definition of small business as an organisation with under 100 employees (as opposed to the previous limit of 20 employees).

The EDR body is, therefore, able to consider disputes from small businesses regarding their financial services providers and credit facilities of $5 million or less, up from the $2 million limit under the FOS and the CIO, with the compensation cap increased from $323,500 to $1 million (or $2 million for primary producers such as farmers).

At the time, she noted the importance of appointing a dedicated small business ombudsman with strong understanding of the challenges small businesses face, for example, around access to credit, contract terms and third-party guarantors.

The Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman, Kate Carnell, also endorsed the appointment of Mr Browne, noting that she had worked with him previously and that he is “very knowledgeable about the banking sector and highly respected by the small business sector”.

Council of Small Business Organisations Australia CEO Peter Strong similarly commended the appointment.

The lead ombudsman for small business has commenced his role today (12 February 2019).

[Related: New compensation scheme for misconduct victims]

 

AFCA appoints small business ombudsman
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