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Consumers have changed forever, says Ombudsman chief

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Consumer attitudes towards financial services businesses have changed irreversibly, the chief executive of the Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS) has said.

As trust in institutions and established professions has diminished, the public’s expectations have risen, according to Natalie Ceeney, writing in the FOS’s latest Ombudsman’s Focus.

Whereas consumers may previously have “put up” with poor service, “perhaps now they just won’t”, Ceeney wrote.

The FOS chief was explaining her outlook for complaints in the coming years. The most recent figures from the service show it handled more than 327,000 complaints in the first half of 2013, a record for the organisation.

“I’m convinced that consumer expectations have risen over the last few years – and we can’t put that genie back in the bottle,” Ceeney wrote. “Trust in institutions and the established professions – doctors, bankers, MPs – has diminished.

“Of course, people have always had worries and concerns – it’s just that consumers might not have complained ‘officially’ before. All the research we – and others – do suggests that most people in the past just put up with poor service – and perhaps now they just won’t.

“Times have obviously changed. I certainly believe that consumer attitudes have changed, which means that financial businesses’ attitudes to customer complaints need to be different too.”

But Ceeney also said signs of an improving economy in the UK may translate into fewer complaints.

“Complaints are closely linked to hard times. We all know that when things are tough financially, people are more likely to look at their finances and question things. But it’s not just about people’s attitudes to money. Economic conditions themselves directly influence financial products like mortgages, pensions and investments.

“There’s a lot of talk of economic recovery at the moment – which is great news for us all. So we might well start to see fewer complaints.”