February / March 2008
If the financial markets are nervous, how should we expect retail consumers to react- When professionals talk of "sentiment" leading the market up or down, they often refer to their reading of leading indicators, corporate profit forecasts and analysts' briefings. And most consumers - who don't read these things - are none the wiser. In normal times, financial news stays safely inside the financial pages.
In recent weeks, however, the public has been assailed by headline news of stock markets plunging, credit markets crunching and the property market collapsing (or not) - not to mention the continuing dramas of a bank in need of a rescue and a trader gambling billions of his bank's money on a disastrous one-way bet.
All this may - or may not - filter through to us in the form of an increased workload of complaints in the coming year, for which we have recently published our corporate plan and budget forecasts. But a general nervousness on the part of consumers - relating both to their own personal finances and to their perception of a less economically secure world around them - is certainly now starting to show up in the calls we're getting on our consumer front-line.
There's no logical reason why - just because the financial markets are jittery - we ought to receive more disputes. The "fundamentals" of most financial products and services for retail consumers haven't changed that much.
But if the confidence of some consumers has been shaken by recent headlines, then financial firms need to put extra effort into reassuring troubled customers. This is where good customer service - and sensitive, intelligent responses to worried questions - can divert those who may be feeling nervous and confused from the path of panic and confrontation.
Much of our work in resolving disputes at the ombudsman service is, in the end, about giving worried and confused people more thorough and considered explanations of how things work. We stand ready to deal with the inevitable disputes that human life and the real world always throw up. But financial businesses can help us - and their customers - by anticipating how consumers are likely to feel and react when they see the frightening headlines.
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.