The FCA’s recently released data on the complaints returns for the first half of 2017 highlights a number of interesting points.
Unfortunately, although the numbers of complaints are up compared with the same period last year (at around 3.3 million), due to the change in reporting requirements for “rapid resolution” complaints brought
in in mid-2016, it is not possible to compare with the same period last year.
That said, the vast majority of complaints continue to be received by a relatively small number of firms (97 per cent of complaints received by just 226 firms) and the largest product complained about continues to be PPI (33 per cent).
Excluding those around PPI, 60 per cent of complaints are now resolved within three days. Although there is no comparable data for last year, this appears to be good news for the complainant. Not necessarily because the complaints will be upheld (although nearly 60 per cent are) but because this gives the complainant a quick response without undue delay.
On the face of it, it is also no doubt more efficient for firms to deal with the complaint promptly. But are they being resolved hastily?
Typically, a complaint dealt with within three working days may well be dealt with by front-line staff, not necessarily specialist compliance or complaint-handling staff. Do these staff members know what a complaint is? Do they know how to deal with them? Do they record them properly?
In order to ensure complainants are treated fairly and that accurate data is reported to the FCA (not to mention that the firms themselves do not pay out unnecessary amounts of compensation whether as a goodwill gesture or actual redress), staff dealing with them must have the appropriate tools and support, as well as the capacity to do so. It is no good having staff with the right knowledge to handle complaints if their other responsibilities leave no time for doing so.
Critically, for a three-day complaint to be classified as resolved, the complainant must indicate acceptance of the response to the complaint.
This should be straightforward if there is email communication (provided the indication is received in time) or recorded telephone calls. But what happens where there is no such recording, where the complaint is handled face-to-face or where the customer is vulnerable? What evidence do firms gather to support the closure of the complaint here?
Firms must be clear on what evidence they will require or accept from their staff and staff must be aware of what is expected of them. Whatever evidence is obtained, it must be done so within the three-day time horizon.
Without the evidence, the complaint cannot be classified as closed within this timescale. If the complaint is not closed, it must follow the more traditional handling process, including acknowledgement letters, holding letters and so on.
Equally, without evidence to confirm acceptance of the response, firms will find it difficult to defend the resolution of the complaint if it is taken further either direct with the firm or via the Financial Ombudsman Service.
There are many other aspects to dealing with complaints but if the majority are being handled within three working days, it makes sense to ensure the processes used enable firms to actively demonstrate resolution.
Simon Collins is managing director, regulatory, at Eversheds Sutherland