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annual review 2014/2015

1 April 2014 to 31 March 2015

chairman's foreword

It seems such a short time since I was writing the foreword to last year’s review, and that is an indication of how busy we have continued to be. The figures in this year’s review show an organisation that is stretched but in control: we are continuing to handle heavy workloads and resolving more cases than we receive.

That may tell an impressive story, but it is only half of one. The Financial Ombudsman Service is far more than a factory for processing complaints. For a start, how we are doing matters just as much as what we are doing. We want our decisions to be fair, but also to be seen as such by the parties whose dispute we are resolving. We want to be modern and efficient in our approach to our work. And we want to reach out to those people who could use our service but who, for whatever reason, do not yet do so.

We are making strides in these directions - but I cannot pretend that it is easy or quick, when we have both a heavy general caseload and the inevitable fall-out from the flood of payment protection insurance (PPI) cases. When I tell people outside the service that we have received 1,343,617 of these, the reaction is always one of incredulity.

We speak of PPI “slackening off”, but cases are still coming in at the rate of 4,000 a week - a much higher number than either we or financial businesses had planned for. This means we continue to face the challenge of managing a heavy PPI workload - with customers waiting much longer than we would like.

When I visit the different parts of the service, I am always impressed both by our people’s enthusiasm and by their receptiveness to new ideas and new ways of doing things - indeed, many of those ideas come from the people closest to the work. The fundamental nature of our work has not changed over the years - we are here to provide a fair and effective resolution to disputes - but the environment has changed.

Consumers’ expectations are higher. And the technology at their and our disposal - and the ways of communicating which it enables - has advanced hugely. People want quicker and more informal outcomes than our traditional paper-bound methods make possible.

So we are looking, together with a range of financial services providers, at how we can meet those expectations, whether we can do more preventative and mediating work to resolve disputes quickly before they turn into formal cases, and how we can best fit in with and make use of the social media that are so much a part of today’s life.

In that context, I should comment on the less tangible progress we continue to make, which will not be immediately obvious from the data in this review. While keeping the appropriate distance between regulator and ombudsman, we are building ever more constructive relations with the Financial Conduct Authority, to the benefit of both organisations.

We are also working hard, and with success, at closer cooperation with financial services providers that will benefit their customers and lead to speedier outcomes for them. I am particularly grateful for the readiness which businesses have shown to collaborate with us on piloting new and smarter ways of working.

Domestically, too, the year has seen changes, with Caroline Wayman, formerly our legal director, being appointed chief ombudsman and chief executive, following an open and public competition. Under Caroline’s leadership a strong executive, with the support of the board, are developing plans which can genuinely be described as exciting to tackle the challenges ahead and to develop a truly modern and customer-focused organisation.

I should like to pay a special tribute to Tony Boorman, who left the ombudsman service last year, after being with us since our inception. Tony’s professional knowledge and wisdom were immense, as was his dedication to the service. He had been a principal ombudsman and deputy chief executive, and did an invaluable job as interim chief executive, motivating the organisation with a strong emphasis on performance. Many of his leading judgements as an ombudsman, on key and fascinating cases, remain classics of their kind.

I should also record the great debt of gratitude which we owe to Julian Lee, who left the board in February after ten years, latterly as chairman of the audit committee. Julian was unstinting with his time and advice, and we have all benefited immeasurably from his wide experience. We shall miss his warmth and wise counsel, but we are fortunate in having secured Gerard Connell as his successor on the board and as chairman of the audit committee.

So I think that we can look back over the past year with some pride. Never with complacency: we all know that the nature of our work means running to stay still - and we want to do a lot more than that. The one certainty is that the coming year will again be one which brings challenges and strains, even if we do not yet know what they are. But I am confident that, once again, we will show ourselves ready and able to handle them.

Sir Nicholas Montagu KCB
May 2015

photo: Sir Nicholas Montagu

photo: Sir Nicholas Montagu

annual review 2014/2015

And if you can't quite make it through all 176 pages - you can see all the highlights in this handy 3 minute video.