Tamsyn Parker

Money Editor for NZ Herald

Financial firms lack complaint systems

Financial service providers who deal with the retail public must belong to a dispute resolution scheme before they can be registered and allowed to provide the service. Photo / Thinkstock
Financial service providers who deal with the retail public must belong to a dispute resolution scheme before they can be registered and allowed to provide the service. Photo / Thinkstock

Many financial service providers still don't have an internal complaints system or promote it well enough to consumers, say the leaders of New Zealand's dispute resolution schemes.

The four schemes were made mandatory in 2010 to provide a point of redress for members of the public unhappy with the dispute process undertaken by their bank, finance company, insurance company, financial adviser, mortgage broker or money lender.

Financial service providers who deal with the retail public must belong to a dispute resolution scheme before they can be registered and allowed to provide the service.

If they are not registered, the Financial Markets Authority can take action against the individual or business.

Financial Dispute Resolution Scheme manager Stuart Ayres estimated about 40 per cent of the scheme's 1600 members still did not have an internal complaints process.

Ayres said an attempt was being made to encourage members to solve complaints as soon as possible, which meant ensuring that their internal complaints system was up to scratch.

"We provide them with guidelines to do that and actively train them. Alot of attention has gone into that area."

The scheme, which is the Government reserve scheme, has a range of members from large corporations such as Telecom and Fonterra down to small firms that do online trading and individual financial advisers.

Ayres said consumer awareness of the dispute resolution schemes was still very low.

In Australia, where the schemes have been running for several years, they receive around 300,000 inquiries a year with about 10 per cent going to a dispute resolution.

Relative to population Ayres said New Zealand should have about 50,000 inquiries a year. In the year to June 30 there were fewer than 6000.

"Consumer awareness is very, very low. Members are supposed to promote it and make it accessible."

But he said some were not doing that.

"We are trying to help them understand how it can be valuable. It's a big bridge for them to cross to implement it."

Ayres said New Zealand did not have a culture of complaining but he said it was worth doing to help businesses to improve their services.

Insurance and Savings Ombudsman Karen Stevens said some financial services organisations were still falling through the cracks and had not registered with a scheme yet.

"They may have just come into the industry or taken over someone's business. We believe there are providers out there that are not registered.

"It's a real concern for the industry. It's probably the organisations that need it most that are not registered and are going below the radar."

Stevens said consumers needed to make sure whoever they were dealing with was on the financial service providers register and was a member of a dispute resolution scheme.

"That means if something goes wrong they can seek redress. If not on the register they can't."

Stevens said it was hard for those in financial hardship because often they could not afford to choose whom to go to for money.

"It's very much buyer beware."

- NZ Herald

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