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our plans for the next financial year (2011/2012)

in this chapter:

  • We set out our ambitious plans for the future - to help ensure we continue to develop our service in line with our customers' needs and the wider needs of the financial services sector.

We are committed to developing the Financial Ombudsman Service and to constantly improving our organisation. We want to offer excellent service when compared with customer-service standards in any sector. The plans we have developed for the next financial year (2011/2012) reflect these ambitions.

We outline below five key priorities for the coming year. Following feedback, we will turn these priorities into more detailed plans for our service for the 2011/2012 financial year. We will publish these more detailed plans in March 2011.

to deliver a trusted, fair and easy-to-use service - for everyone

The ombudsman service sees the hardest-fought disputes, which financial businesses and consumers have already tried and failed to resolve themselves. We need to be - and be seen to be - fair and impartial. And we want to be open and accessible to everyone, from all backgrounds.

Our research shows that we are already reaching a wider and more diverse proportion of the population. But we believe we can do more to make our service easier to use. For example, we are planning closer integration of our own consumer helpline with other front-line services. This will include strengthening links with advice agencies and aligning our operational processes with those of financial businesses.

Our goals for the coming year are to:

  • Use customer insight and segmentation to design operational and communication channels that better meet the diverse needs of consumers and businesses.
  • Continue our outreach work with those who find us less accessible.
  • Create online services as part of our "e-enablement" plans.
  • Develop our partnerships with front-line advice agencies, as part of our work towards seamless service delivery (for example, in cases involving financial hardship).
  • Ensure that quality is central to the way we plan and deliver our service.

to share our experience and insight - helping to prevent future problems

Our work is about putting things right when they have gone wrong. But this is only part of the challenge. What is essential is that lessons are learnt - to prevent the same thing happening again. To help with this learning, we need to be open and transparent about what we see and what we do.

Following Lord Hunt's review of our accessibility and openness in 2007/2008, we have published substantially more information - including (in our online technical resource) details of our approach to the wide range of complaints we see most frequently, as well as complaints data about individual businesses and individual products. We have received broadly positive feedback for making this information publicly available - and we want to do more.

Our goals for the coming year are to:

  • Share with key stakeholders (the financial services industry, consumer groups and regulators) the emerging issues and trends we see - to help prevent future problems.
  • Invest time with businesses, to help them improve their complaints handling and learn from our insights into where things have gone wrong.
  • Share our experience with consumers and consumer groups, to help them resolve issues themselves where possible.

to put knowledge and expertise at the heart of everything we do

We rely on the skills, expertise and professionalism of our staff to resolve the complaints referred to us - and arrive at the right outcome in each case.

In response to the continued high level of demand and the increase in our caseload, we recruited and trained a significant number of new adjudicators in 2009/2010. We have invested heavily in the development of these new adjudicators - and we are reviewing our professional-development model as part of this investment.

We want our staff to continue learning and developing skills that help them deal with a wider variety and complexity of casework. There are significant training and development costs for newly-recruited staff - and an inevitable dip in productivity as new adjudicators work under close supervision until they can show they meet our required professional standards. It is therefore important that we retain staff once they become fully productive. We recognise that as the employment market improves, there is likely to be strong demand for the staff we have trained and invested in.

Our goals for the coming year are to:

  • Launch an enhanced career model that encourages and enables the professional development of case-handling staff through to the role of ombudsman.
  • Further develop the role of our ombudsmen as mentors and coaches.
  • Extend our approach to knowledge management, to ensure all our staff have the information they need.
  • Use every opportunity to reinforce the key importance of quality as a core value for our service.

to be flexible, reliable and efficient

Demand for our service is inherently volatile. We see volatility not only in case volumes, but also in the "case mix", as well as in the behaviour of financial businesses and consumers. This means it is challenging to forecast levels of demand accurately.

Despite this, it is essential that we are able to cope with variable levels of demand, so that we can offer a consistently good service whatever the volume or mix of cases we face. This is why we are reviewing our operational model - to ensure we have the flexibility to respond efficiently and reliably to variable demand. This should also reduce the time it takes us to resolve cases.

Our goals for the coming year are to:

  • Review the workforce balance between our contractors and our permanent staff, to ensure we have a cost-effective arrangement which gives us flexibility - while ensuring that all staff who handle cases for us do so to consistently high standards. This will involve reviewing our contractor relationships on a longer-term basis.
  • Strengthen our operational planning capability in relation to demand and capacity - so that we can identify changes and trends in case volumes or "case mix" at the earliest possible stage, and respond rapidly.
  • Streamline our operations to ensure the efficient handling of cases and make the best use of resources.
  • Further reduce the time it takes us to resolve cases.

to operate a "lean" and effective infrastructure

We want to invest sensibly in our future. But we recognise the importance of keeping our overall costs as low as possible to those who fund our service.

This is why we are committed to making savings - to fund the investment we want to make. We believe that many of these savings can be delivered by scrutinising our case-handling processes and cutting out any unnecessary complexity or duplication. We also believe that there are longer-term cost and efficiency benefits to be gained through greater use of electronic and web-based technology.

So a key part of our plans going forward involves starting to "e-enable" our service. We will be working closely with key stakeholders to do this in a way that links, wherever possible, with their own processes. We are also committed to ensuring that our service remains accessible to those consumers who prefer to deal with us using more traditional channels.

Our goals for the coming year are to:

  • Begin work "e-enabling" our operations - internally in terms of our own systems and externally in the way we exchange information with our customers.
  • Help reduce the costs of "doing business" with us - working in partnership with businesses to streamline our "end-to-end" processes.
  • Reduce cost while maintaining quality - through a structured and targeted cost-reduction programme.