New Service to Help Consumers Resolve their Financial Services Complaints
TORONTO-Consumers who have a problem or concern with their financial services provider now have access to a new free service that will help them quickly and effectively navigate the complaint process. The Centre for the Financial Services OmbudsNetwork today officially launched its national Consumer assistance and referral service, which is available to consumers by calling 1-866-538-FSON (3766) (for services in English), 1-866-668-RCSF (7273) (for services in French) or 416-777-2043 in Toronto, and a Web site, www.cfson-crcsf.ca.
According to Chief Executive Officer Pierre Gravelle, the Centre’s goal is to ensure that consumers’ questions, concerns and complaints are treated fairly and consistently across the financial services industry in a timely, accurate and courteous manner. “If consumers have concerns or complaints with their providers and are unsure how or where to begin, they can make one call and be put in touch with someone who will guide them through the complaint resolution process,” explains Gravelle. “We will connect them with an appropriate contact at the firm or at an industry assistance centre, industry-level ombudservice or in some cases, regulator or other agency.
“In essence, we are building on the complaint management services that already exist at the company level – we will always start with a referral back to the appropriate point at the company level, and advise consumers on any next steps, providing guidance and contact information to facilitate resolution,” notes Gravelle.
The Centre is one component of the three-part Financial Services OmbudsNetwork, which also includes individual financial service providers and their company-level consumer complaint management activities, and three new independent industry-level ombudservices.
Should consumers remain unsatisfied after completing the steps at the company level, the Centre will refer them to one of the three industry-level ombudservices:
- the Canadian Life and Health Insurance OmbudService (CLHIO) for life and health insurance consumers
- the General Insurance OmbudService (GIO) for consumers of home, car or business insurance
- the Ombudsman for Banking Services and Investments (OBSI), which expands the role of the former Canadian Banking Ombudsman to include ombudservices for clients of banks, and member firms of the Investment Dealers Association of Canada, the Mutual Fund Dealers Association of Canada, the Investment Funds Institute of Canada, and most federally regulated trust and loan companies.
The ombudservices will work toward a solution that is in the best interest of both parties in a fair, independent and impartial environment. They have the capacity to produce a report with non-binding recommendations, including, in some cases, restitution or compensation.
The Centre will also be responsible for identifying and promoting industry best practices and developing standards relating to consumer services and complaint handling. “With this new service, the Centre will be in a position to analyze trends and provide timely feedback to the industry,” adds Gravelle.
Staffed by a small team of consumer assistance specialists, the service is available Monday to Friday, from 9:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. EST. Fax, voice and e-mail, and Web access are available around the clock. Gravelle notes, “We will monitor demand and adjust hours and staff levels as required in the months ahead.”
The Centre’s Web site has been designed to complement the referral service by providing high level descriptions of complaint processes in the different industries, a complaint information kit, glossary and links to other sites that present useful information for financial consumers who may be interested in improving their own knowledge.
“Today marks the culmination of a co-operative effort by many players in the industry: the six founding associations and their members, provincial and federal regulators, and consumer groups who provided feedback along the way,” says Huguette Labelle, Chair of the Centre’s Board and Chancellor of the University of Ottawa. “We are confident that by providing improved access to complaint resolution services across the industry and by implementing standards and best practices, the Centre will be able to meet the needs and interests of consumers and financial institutions,” adds Labelle.
The Centre was originally announced in December 2001 by the national associations representing the large majority of Canada’s financial services sector – banks, life and health insurers, home, car and business insurers, investment dealers and the mutual funds industry – as the National Financial Services Ombudservice.