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ombudsman news

issue 126

July 2015

for better or worse

Considering events within the financial services sector in the last few years, it’s understandable that the sector’s relationship with its customers is still a work in progress.

Perhaps that wouldn’t be so important if financial services didn’t matter so much. If someone’s toaster broke down after a few years - and it couldn’t be fixed - they would probably just buy a new one. On the other hand, if someone’s mortgage went wrong in some way, it’s unlikely that things would be so straightforward.

As our case studies highlight, even an issue that on the face of it seems relatively minor can put someone’s home and lifestyle at risk. And the attachment people have to where they live - because they’ve saved hard to buy it or because of happy times it’s seen - means problems have an emotional, as well as a practical impact.

Mortgages are just one example of how integral financial services are to the course of people’s lives. Think about a teenager insuring their first car, a new grandparent opening a child’s savings account, or a couple taking out travel insurance for their honeymoon. Or perhaps someone paying a few pounds every month to ease the burden on their family if the worst should happen.

In fact, it’s hard to think of an event or rite of passage that doesn’t have some kind of financial product associated with it - whether the commitment is substantial or small, long-lasting or temporary.

And whatever the level of public trust in the financial services sector over the years, individual people have still had to trust businesses to protect and support them through different stages of their lives.

Inevitably, at the ombudsman we often see those situations where trust has broken down - leaving customers frustrated, disappointed and stressed. In many cases this is because, whatever the specific “rights and wrongs” of a complaint, the business hasn’t appreciated the link between the service they’re providing and their customer’s life - and all the emotions that go with it.

And where emotions are running high, it’s also likely that jargon and inflexible terms, conditions and procedure will feel particularly cold, unhelpful and unfair.

But we also see examples of how a business’s care and expertise has made all the difference to someone at a significant point in their life. That could be as simple as recognising a bereaved customer’s loss. It could be giving the tailored advice that allows someone to enjoy their retirement where things haven’t always been so certain. Or it could be reaching the fair, pragmatic solution that means someone can stay in their home.

It’s hard not to notice that sharing customers’ milestones - in good times and bad - has been a common theme of financial advertising in recent years. Thinking about how the financial services sector can continue to strengthen trust, I think ensuring it’s living up to this picture is a good place to start.

Caroline Wayman

Caroline Wayman
Caroline Wayman
chief ombudsman

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.