Centre for the Financial Services Ombudsnetwork Issues First Annual Report

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February 4, 2004, Toronto — The Centre for the Financial Services OmbudsNetwork released its first annual report today, covering the period November 29, 2002 to December 31, 2003.

“In today’s financial marketplace,” explains the Centre’s Chair Huguette Labelle, “there is a wide array of options available to consumers who encounter problems or have concerns with their financial providers. These range from recourse mechanisms offered at the firm level, to assistance available from industry associations, provincial ombudsmen offices, consumer groups, regulatory and self-regulatory bodies, government officials, law firms and the media. Knowing who to contact and when, can make all the difference in resolving concerns quickly.”

Through its free Consumer Assistance and Referral Service and Web site, the Centre assists financial consumers in resolving individual questions, concerns or complaints, by putting them in touch with the appropriate point in the OmbudsNetwork of companies, association assistance centres, and independent ombudservices.

“Consumers have told us that they very much appreciate being able to talk to someone who listens and offers next steps for resolving their issues,” says Mr. Pierre Gravelle, the Centre’s Chief Executive Officer. The Service is available through a toll-free number, which is staffed Monday to Friday, 9:00 A.M. to 7:00 P.M. (EST).

During its first 13 months of operation, there were over 45,000 visits to the Centre’s Web site, which offers tips, links and high level complaint protocols and 4,401 consumer contacts handled through its Consumer Assistance and Referral Service. Of these contacts, 20 per cent (888) were classified as inquiries and 80 per cent (3,513) as perceived complaints.

“Most people who contacted the Centre with a perceived complaint were referred back to a complaint-handler at the company,” notes Mr. Gravelle. “It makes sound business sense to settle disputes and concerns as soon as they arise and no one is better positioned to deal with clients than the firms themselves.”

Overall, half of referrals concerning complaints were made by the Centre to company-level contacts, including point of sale, customer service, a company manager, ombudsman or complaints officer. Another 26 per cent of referrals went to one of the industry association assistance centres operated by the Canadian Life and Health Insurance Association and the Insurance Bureau of Canada. These assistance centres provide information about products and services and can often provide the help consumers need to better understand the issues and resolve their concerns.

Seven per cent of referrals went to one of the OmbudsNetwork’s three ombudservices, the Canadian Life and Health Insurance OmbudService (CLHIO), the General Insurance OmbudService (GIO) and the Ombudsman for Banking Services and Investments (OBSI). These independent ombudservices provide impartial resolution of complaints, based on fairness and industry best practices, for consumers whose complaints have been dealt with at the company level and who wish further consideration of their issues.

The Centre’s Consumer Assistance Specialists handled 3 per cent of contacts without the need for further referral and 11 per cent were made to a source outside the OmbudsNetwork. Three per cent of referrals were made to regulators.

“We have made tremendous progress over the past year,” notes Ms. Labelle, ” and are very well positioned to meet the many challenges ahead, including increasing our visibility with consumers and strengthening ties with our key stakeholder groups.”

The Centre was originally announced in December 2001 by the trade 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.

Copies of the full report are available at http://www.cfson-crcsf.ca/en/about/reports/cfsonarfin.pdf