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annual review 2015/2016

1 April 2015 to 31 March 2016

chairman's foreword

This review gives the opportunity to reflect both on our achievements over the year and on our purpose. The achievements are a tribute to the commitment and professionalism of our people, for which I am hugely thankful. The figures show a year of substantial progress in settling complaints, in focusing on customer satisfaction both for consumers and businesses, and in making inroads into the volumes of cases with which the fall-out of payment protection insurance inevitably left us.

But, important though it is that we have resolved 100,000 more complaints than we have received this year, this is only part of the picture. It may be a truism that behind every case lies a human story, but it is one which we forget at our peril. In a perfect world nothing would go wrong - and there would be no need for complaints handling at all. But that world does not exist - and probably never will - which brings us back to our purpose.

It would be possible for us to judge complaints on the basis of what is fair and leave it at that. That could be efficiency of a sort, but not of a sort that we would ever espouse. A complaint being escalated to us means that earlier attempts at agreement have failed; it also suggests that there may be upset and frustration on one or both sides. Our involvement should aim to dispel those emotions.

That is why we set such store by our answers not only being fair, but feeling so. Our initial conversation with consumers enables us to probe their concerns and manage their expectations. Similarly, our contact with financial providers gives them assurance that we are not burdening them with unnecessary process, and that our approach is transparent, consistent, professional and sensitive to where they are coming from.

So we need to get away from the idea of “cases” - suggestive of stacks of paperwork and a prolonged process - and think more about what causes disputes and how we can stop them from happening in the first place. If we can enable consumers and financial providers to identify and focus on the real underlying concerns, and get them resolved quickly and informally, everyone wins. This is why we have continued to streamline our own internal processes this year; and I have been encouraged by and grateful for the readiness of financial providers to work with us in helping to do this.

Results are encouraging. The satisfaction rates among consumers whose complaints we don’t uphold are always a good indicator of how we are doing. Talking to some of our teams who are using these new ways of working, I was delighted to discover that among consumers whose complaints we have not upheld, a significant majority are satisfied nevertheless, feeling that they have been listened to and that they have received a clear explanation as to how things stand. So often, this satisfaction is just a question of our being able to step in as early as possible - to talk people through the reasons and the complexities behind their problem.

Of course some complaints may still involve reams of paper going back years. But the main thing is that we are more flexible, gearing our approach to the fairest and quickest result. There are lots of issues to be decided along the way, but I believe that we have a genuinely stronger partnership with financial providers than ever before, with the shared aspiration of fairer, quicker outcomes for their customers.

I have also been encouraged by the strength of our relationship with the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA). While respecting our different responsibilities and boundaries, we have continued to work together constructively to address our common concerns, to the advantage of all our customers.

As ever, I should record my gratitude to my Board for their unfailing wisdom and support. Gwyn Burr left us during the year, and I thank her for her insights and the customer focus she brought - we were extremely lucky to secure Gill Whitehead as her successor.

We might legitimately rest on some of the laurels highlighted in this review of the year - but that is not something we would do. Instead we look forward to the coming year with the usual mixture of apprehension and enthusiasm. The commitment, energy and optimism of our people mean that enthusiasm will get the upper hand.

Sir Nicholas Montagu KCB
May 2016