What to do if you have a financial services complaint

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The Australian Financial Complaints Authority (AFCA) is the one-stop shop for resolving conflicts arising with providers of financial services.

AFCA considers complaints that previously would have been handled by either the Financial Ombudsman Service, the Credit and Investments Ombudsman or the Superannuation Complaints Tribunal.

The range of complaints that can be resolved by AFCA include credit, loans, insurance, banking deposits, payments, investments, financial advice and superannuation.

AFCA’s role is to assist consumers to reach agreements with financial firms about how to resolve their complaints. They are impartial and independent.

They do not act for either party to advocate their position. If a complaint does not resolve between the parties, then it will decide an appropriate outcome.

Decisions AFCA makes can be binding on the financial firm involved in a complaint.

AFCA can award compensation for losses suffered because of a financial firm’s error or inappropriate conduct.

There are other remedies AFCA can also provide for superannuation complaints, although it does not award compensation to punish financial firms or impose fines.

AFCA is not a government department or agency and is not a regulator of the financial services industry.

How AFCA resolves complaints
AFCA has two informal methods available to it to help resolve complaints – negotiation or conciliation. If these informal methods of resolving a complaint don’t work, then it can proceed on to a formal method for trying to resolve the complaints.

Negotiation
Often AFCA will work to resolve a complaint with the parties by helping them negotiate a settlement.

This may involve exchanging settlement offers and discussing them with each party.

To assist negotiations, AFCA may provide guidance about the type of outcome that might occur if a settlement is not negotiated and the complaint proceeds to determination.

Conciliation
Sometimes AFCA will hold a telephone conciliation conference with both parties. This is conducted informally. It provides the parties with a chance to hear the other’s perspective in a conversation facilitated by independent arbiter.

During a conciliation AFCA will normally provide the parties with guidance on the issues raised in the complaint and what outcome might be provided if the complaint proceeds to determination.

If negotiations or a conciliation conference do not achieve an agreed settlement, AFCA will decide the complaint.

Formal methods
If informal methods to resolve a complaint don’t work, or there is a reason to progress the matter without conducting any negotiations or conciliation with the parties, AFCA will make a decision on the merits of the complaint (also referred to as a determination).

Often, AFCA will provide the parties with a preliminary assessment before making a binding decision.

A preliminary assessment includes:

  • an overview of the facts of the complaint
  • the issues raised in the complaint and AFCA’s preliminary assessment of those issues
  • how AFCA thinks the complaint should be resolved and why.

AFCA will give the parties seven days (for fast-track complaints) or 30 days (for other complaints) to explain whether they are willing to settle a complaint based on the preliminary assessment provided or, alternatively, whether they want the complaint to proceed to a determination.

Determination
A determination is the final stage in the complaint resolution process.

A determination will be made in writing and will outline the reasons for the decision.

Any remedy that AFCA awards, whether it be monetary compensation or some other remedy, will also be included. The financial firm is required to comply with the decision.

The determination will set out:

– the relevant factual information available at the time of making the determination
– the relevant issues arising in the complaint and analysis of those issues
– a decision as to how the complaint should be resolved and why, including a particular remedy (if any) to be provided to the complainant.

For non-superannuation complaints, if you choose not to accept AFCA’s determination, you have a right to pursue your claim against the financial firm through the courts. 

Have you ever made a financial services complaint? How did you find the process?

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Written by Ben

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