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Last month we published our annual review. There’s nothing like seeing the year’s trends and stories all in one place to bring home the huge range of problems and personal circumstances we’re called into to sort out. And for me – perhaps particularly because it’s something of a landmark year – it’s a reminder of why the service we provide matters.
In the 15 years since we were set up, we’ve answered 15 million questions, concerns and complaints. Taken together with the millions of enquiries answered by other ombudsmen and similar schemes, that’s a good indication that people continue to want and need a fair, cheaper and quicker alternative to taking their problem to court.
And looking at the scale of the numbers, it’s clear that over the years we and other ombudsmen will have gained a pretty good understanding of why those problems arise – and how they could be prevented in the first place.
So how have complaints changed over the last 15 years? A few weeks ago, we met ombudsman schemes from all over the world to share our different experiences. It was apparent from the conversations with the ombudsmen that – regardless of the product or service in question – the problems we’ve all seen, and continue to see, invariably centre on a sense of unfairness.
But life in general hasn’t been so constant since 2000. As well as giving us an insight into what’s driving complaints, having a window into so many lives gives us a picture of how significantly things have moved on.
In the same way as the businesses we cover, we and other services like us have to respond to people’s changing expectations and preferences. For example, keeping pace with technology isn’t just a nice touch – it’s essential to remaining accessible and relevant.
But making sure people can reach us – and in a way that suits them – is only one part of the challenge. Where problems with money are concerned, the consequences can be extremely stressful or expensive. So it’s also vital that, once a complaint has been escalated to us, we sort it out as soon as possible.
Recognising that lengthy, overly-formal processes aren’t what’s generally expected today, we’ve been working together with businesses over the past few months to sort out problems more quickly than ever before. In ombudsman focus, Garry Wilkinson, our principal ombudsman, explains what this looks like in practice. In some cases, we’ve given people an answer – and peace of mind – in a matter of hours, rather than weeks or months.
I’ve been really encouraged by the enthusiasm of the businesses we’ve been working with so far. But then, it’s hard to argue that putting things right quickly isn’t the right thing to do – or that it isn’t good for business. By putting pragmatism and problem-solving upfront, less time and money is spent in the long run. And in many cases, the customer relationship is not only saved, but strengthened.
It seems to me that to strengthen trust in financial services in general, this is definitely the direction we need to continue in. As “alternative dispute resolution” extends to all sorts of sectors across Europe, I’m hopeful that UK financial services can set the standard – keeping fairness and rebuilding trust for our customers.
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.