Tony HazellAug 16 2017

Financial system delivers on its duty of care

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Trawling through the letters sent to my Daily Mail Ask Tony column I am struck once again by how few actually concern financial services firms.

I suspect I have the biggest mailbag of all of the money section agony aunts and uncles. 

It is a reflection of the wide readership of the Daily Mail and of our deep bond with our readers. Details of consumer disputes pour in as letters, emails and phone calls. They concern energy companies, communications firms, car hire, holiday and air travel, HMRC and mail order or internet shopping disputes.

>Financial services firms seem to produce far fewer complaints then they used to

But financial services firms seem to produce far fewer complaints then they used to. This suggests it must be doing something right in the area of customer services. 

In fact, the industry has – for the most part – been moving in the right direction for a number of years, and perhaps does not always get the credit it deserves. Regulators, although regularly criticised by the likes of me, are, on the whole, a lot sharper than those in the energy, telecoms and travel sectors.

There is a highly effective Ombudsman service. This is in contrast to other sectors where, in my experience, ombudsmen can be ineffectual and produce some eye-raising decisions.

Some sectors, such as travel, seem to lack any effective consumer arbitrator, although they would no doubt dispute this.

Then there are the companies themselves. Financial services firms do get things wrong, and in some cases leadership decisions or pronouncements can be catastrophically anti-consumer.

Take RBS boss Ross McEwan’s assertion that banks do not have a duty of care to fraud victims. This is a PR disaster made by a man who is so wealthy he has lost touch with ordinary consumers. I wonder how he would feel if his gran had been taken for a ride by internet scammers?

But, for the most part, financial firms have become better at dealing with consumer complaints, and when there are mistakes it often seems to be down to an individual oversight rather than corporate mendacity.

Compare this with airlines and travel firms who do everything possible to make life difficult for those with genuine gripes, and car hire firms whose sole corporate purpose seems to be to deceive consumers.

Recently, my eye was caught by a pension case involving Hargreaves Lansdown. An investor had complained that he had been given inaccurate advice on his pension. Hargreaves had offered £113,000 plus interest and £1,500 for distress and inconvenience. Not satisfied, the man went to the Ombudsman and was awarded £112,000 instead.