Complaining effectively to a financial services company

Image by Ben Ostrowsky

It's easy to feel small and overwhelmed when you're on the phone to a large call centre and are not getting the help you need. The jargon and red tape surrounding dealings with big finance companies is a big reason why some people do not have a good understanding of their personal finances. That's one of the reasons why we built simple and easy-to-use free money management software. One of the most stressful interactions with large financial institutions occurs when you need to make a complaint. This blog post aims to make this process simpler, just as our budgeting software makes your finances simpler.

All financial services companies in the UK are regulated by a body called the Financial Services Authority (FSA). This means that companies have to follow detailed FSA rules.

These rules cover how the company does business with you and how it handles your complaints. The blog post explains how to use the rules to your advantage.

All companies must appoint somebody as their Chief Executive and a Compliance Officer. Usually the Chief Executive's name is on the company's website. The Compliance Officer tends to be more hidden away, but you can find out who they are by going to the FSA Register and typing in the name of the firm. After you get the search result, click on ‘Individuals'. With luck when clicking through the listed names you'll quickly find somebody who has ‘CF10' to the left of their name. The Chief Exec is ‘CF3'.

The next step is to email them; most email addresses are guessable, other can be found through Internet search. If that doesn't work, address a letter to either of them by name. If you address it to their job title, chances are they'll never see it. Don't expect either to deal with your complaint all the way through, but you have increased your chances of having somebody further up the chain dealing with it than simply writing to Customer Services.

There's quite a good chance that your complaint isn't unique. You can turn this to your advantage if you think that what you're complaining about is because of, say, a computer error. That means you're complaining about what's known as a "systemic issue" which companies are meant to put right quickly. If this applies to you, try to work the words "systemic issue" into your letter.

Companies also have to make sure that they treat their customers fairly. This is a major FSA theme. Although this page of the FSA site is aimed at companies, you can read "bad practice" examples in just a few minutes. You might find the example is similar to what you want to complain about.

FSA have detailed rules about how a company should handle complaints. The company is meant to send you a summary of its procedures when it acknowledges your complaint. Instead of waiting for that, get the upper hand by saying that you expect the complaint to be dealt with within 8 weeks, and if they don't do that you'll go to the Financial Services Ombudsman. This is not only what the rules allow you to do, but it shows you've done a bit of homework.

The other things to get right are mostly common sense:

  • Write rather than phone. You can send letters to the Ombudsman - your record of a phone call will never be as complete.
  • Type your letter out, so that you have a copy saved, and to make it easy to read.
  • Keep to the facts.
  • Keep all the replies.
  • Mark in your diary a time to follow up or escalate if you receive no reply.
  • Be persistent!
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All content is for informational purposes only and is the opinion of the author. Nothing on this website should be interpreted as "advice". Money Dashboard Ltd make no representations as to the accuracy, completeness, suitability or validity of any information on this site and will not be liable for any errors or omissions or any damages arising from its display or use.

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