In­crease in com­plaints about banks

The Om­buds­man for Bank­ing Ser­vices at­tributes this to con­sumers be­com­ing more as­sertive, and to a greater aware­ness of her of­fice. Ge­orgina Crouth re­ports

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COM­PLAINTS from bank­ing con­sumers are up by an “un­prece­dented” 35%, in­ter­net fraud has out­stripped ATM com­plaints and con­sumer ed­u­ca­tion is sorely lack­ing, says the bank­ing om­buds­man’s lat­est an­nual re­port, which was re­leased on Wed­nes­day.

The Om­buds­man for Bank­ing Ser­vices (OBS) says that 7 056 for­mal cases were opened, show­ing a 35% spike from the pre­vi­ous year, with 99% of cases closed within four months.

“On av­er­age, cases were closed within 34 busi­ness days. This shows the ded­i­ca­tion of the OBS staff to pro­duce qual­ity work, on time,” says Reana Steyn, the om­buds­man. “Be­cause we are deal­ing with bank­ing-re­lated com­plaints, that often means the cus­tomer is out of pocket, and we strive to de­liver qual­ity out­comes swiftly. The au­to­ma­tion of cer­tain pro­cesses in case han­dling was im­ple­mented in the lat­ter part of the year, re­sult­ing in a lean, ef­fi­cient, time-sav­ing and cost-ef­fec­tive busi­ness tool.”

Steyn, who took of­fice in July last year, says she be­lieves the uptick in com­plaints is a re­sult of con­sumers be­com­ing more as­sertive and find­ing her of­fice’s con­tact de­tails on­line.

“Thou­sands upon thou­sands of com­plaints are re­solved by the banks them­selves. Peo­ple also know about our of­fice, with 10% of com­plainants hear­ing about us in the me­dia,” Steyn says.

“We’re very strict at the bank­ing om­buds­man – the dis­pute goes through se­nior peo­ple in the banks’ dis­put­eres­o­lu­tion de­part­ments be­fore we take it. They have en­tire de­part­ments de­voted to re­solv­ing cus­tomers’ is­sues, and they pre­fer to set­tle is­sues there. That shows the process is work­ing, be­cause staff are very sen­si­tive about how many mat­ters are re­ported to us: it causes rep­u­ta­tional dam­age.”

The big­gest con­cern for her of­fice was the in­crease in in­ter­net fraud, which, Steyn says, is grow­ing be­cause of a lack of aware­ness.

“Peo­ple, and es­pe­cially the el­derly, are us­ing a prod­uct that they don’t quite un­der­stand

– they don’t un­der­stand the im­pli­ca­tions of giv­ing per­sonal in­for­ma­tion out, or al­low­ing a stranger to ‘help’ them at the ATM. But if you’ve fallen for a phish­ing scam or given your PIN to some­one, can you hon­estly blame the bank?”

She says fraud­sters are also in­ter­cept­ing ac­count de­tails and chang­ing theme.

“I have a case now, which has been re­ported to the Bank­ing As­so­ci­a­tion of South Africa. An at­tor­ney paid a large sum of money into the wrong ac­count be­cause they re­ceived a mail in­struct­ing them to do so and didn’t check. But it’s not the bank’s fault if some­body sends you an email say­ing ‘please pay money into this ac­count’ and you do. Or if you re­ceive in­struc­tions to de­posit money into an ac­count and you haven’t dou­ble-checked: Is the name spelled cor­rectly? Is it the same email ad­dress as be­fore?”

Steyn says her of­fice was con­cerned that there were so few com­plaints in some provinces: “It’s wor­ry­ing, so we’re go­ing to fo­cus our mar­ket­ing on those provinces. What does that mean if they have so few com­plaints? It might be be­cause they don’t know about us.”

It’s not only up to her of­fice to ed­u­cate the pub­lic: Steyn says con­sumers must ed­u­cate them­selves.

“There’s more bank­ing be­ing done on­line, so con­sumers are far more vul­ner­a­ble. It’s also in­ter­est­ing that the top three cat­e­gories are crime-re­lated: in­ter­net bank­ing (22%), ATM (18%) and credit card (13%). Th­ese are mostly avoid­able.”

Con­sumers who are un­suc­cess­ful in their com­plaints often com­plain bit­terly, but that doesn’t prove bias to­wards the banks.

“Our of­fice found in favour of com­plainants in 27% of the cases. That num­ber might ap­pear low, but it’s in line with in­ter­na­tional ex­pe­ri­ence. We be­lieve it’s owing to the fact that banks have set up highly ef­fec­tive com­plaints-res­o­lu­tion de­part­ments,” Steyn says.

• Con­sumers are en­cour­aged to take up their dis­pute with the OBS if their com­plaint has not been han­dled in­ter­nally within 20 work­ing days. The om­buds­man’s con­tact de­tails are: tele­phone

0860 800 900 or 011 712 1800, email info@ob­, fax 011 483 3212, or write to PO Box 87056, Houghton, 2041.


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