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ombudsman news

issue 35

February/March 2004

how satisfied are firms with our service-

In our annual review last summer we published results from our research into how consumers rated our service - and we said that we would be carrying out similar research into what firms think about us.

This further research was carried out in the second half of 2003. It involved sending detailed questionnaires to 342 firms, asking for their comments and views - in confidence - on all aspects of our service. We are very grateful to the 147 firms who took the time and trouble to respond. These firms represented a cross-section of the financial services industry:

  • 40 percent of responses came from independent financial advisers (IFAs);
  • 22 percent came from investment product providers;
  • 20 percent came from general insurers; and
  • 18 percent came from banks and building societies.
the big issues

We are currently digesting the detailed feedback that we received, and analysing and considering the many comments, facts and figures. But initial findings show that:

  • 70 percent of the firms that responded thought that the decisions we make are "generally fair";
  • 85 percent felt able to challenge the views expressed by our adjudicators - but only 14 percent did so regularly;
  • 90 percent agreed that the ombudsman service was a better alternative to the courts;
  • 90 percent said they understood how we handle complaints; and
  • 75 percent thought the ombudsman service had upheld a reasonable proportion of the complaints made against their firm.
doing things better

A number of firms said they had received inaccurately addressed correspondence from us. We are now looking at how we can keep our database of firms' addresses and contact details more up-to-date. We are also considering comments from some larger firms (mostly IFA networks) who said that it is difficult for them to identify cases from the initial information we send them when we receive a complaint against them.

We are already dealing with concerns raised by smaller firms about the case fee. We recently proposed (in our plan & budget 2004/05) that we would not charge financial firms case fees for the first two complaints against them that are referred to us each year. This will particularly benefit the large majority of firms whose customers only rarely refer complaints to the ombudsman service.

More generally, we are reflecting on the perception that is clearly held by a number of firms that we are "too consumer-focused". Some firms are increasingly worried about the evidence they see of a growing "complaints culture"- with "everyone trying it on".

more feedback

We will be reporting back with more details as we work through the survey findings in greater depth.

Our board has also recently commissioned an independent assessment of our service - reviewing our process and output in terms of quality, consistency and value. This assessment will be carried out by Elaine Kempson from the Personal Finance Research Centre at Bristol University.

So watch this space for more news and feedback on where we need to do things better in future - or even on where we may already be getting things just about right.

Walter Merricks, chief ombudsman

ombudsman news issue 35 [PDF format]

ombudsman news gives general information on the position at the date of publication. It is not a definitive statement of the law, our approach or our procedure.

The illustrative case studies are based broadly on real-life cases, but are not precedents. Individual cases are decided on their own facts.