How to complain to your bank and win
The big banks have a terrible track record for dealing fairly with customer complaints. This article will show you how to successfully fight back.
If you’ve ever had cause to complain to your bank, you’ll no doubt know what a frustrating, bang-your-head-against-a-brick-wall exercise it can be.
In fact, the extent of poor complaint handling has recently been exposed by a Financial Services Authority (FSA) review of procedures at five large UK banking groups. The review covered around 70% of the total grievances received by the FSA, and 60% of those referred to the Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS).
I’m sure it won’t come as a huge surprise to hear the FSA has discovered unacceptable standards and serious weaknesses in the complaints procedures at all the banks investigated. Worse still, two of the five banks have been referred for further investigation.
Each bank is apparently making major changes to the way complaints are dealt with. But that’s of little comfort to those of you who are struggling to be taken seriously by your bank right now.
How to get your complaint taken seriously
There are steps you can take to up your chances of winning a complaint. In fact, there’s a right way - and a wrong way - to get your grievance across. Follow my top ten tips the next time your bank needs taking to task:
1. Find out about your bank’s complaint procedure - Under FSA rules all banks are required to have an appropriate complaints procedure. Ask to see a copy so you understand exactly how your complaint will be handled.
2. Act now - Make your complaint as soon as things go wrong. The longer you leave it the harder it will be to remember all the relevant details you’ll need to strengthen your case. Don’t forget, certain financial complaints have time limits so don’t miss the opportunity to put in your claim for redress.
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3. Complain to the right person - Try to make your complaint to the person you originally dealt with. If that’s not possible, contact your bank and ask for an appropriate contact name to address your complaint to. Check their job title to make sure this is someone fairly senior.
4. Put your complaint in writing - You can complain by phone if you want to, but I think it’s far more effective to complain in writing. A written complaint is more likely to be taken seriously.
It’s important your letter includes certain information. First of all, don’t forget to include simple but important basics such as your account or policy number. You should aim to give a brief summary of your complaint in a clear and logical manner. Don’t get too bogged down with every minute detail. Explain why you’re unhappy about the situation, and what action you expect your bank to take to resolve matters.
5. Ask for redress - If you think you should be compensated for the treatment you have received from your bank, make sure you say so in your complaint letter. There’s no need to be specify amounts of compensation, but make it clear that's exactly what you expect to recieve.
6. Be polite - Don’t ever be rude or abusive in any contact you have with your bank, even if you feel like you’re making little headway. It definitely won’t help your case. Keep calm and stick to the facts.
7. Give your bank a chance - Before you take things further, you’ll need to give your bank a reasonable opportunity to resolve your complaint. This timescale should be indicated in the bank’s complaint procedure. It’s highly unlikely you’ll get an immediate response, so be prepared to sit it out for a while.
8. Keep records - It’s important you keep copies of correspondence between you and your bank, and any evidence you have sent to back up your case. You may need to refer to this documentation later down the line.
9. Don’t be fobbed off - With a bit of luck your bank will respond to your complaint letter in a satisfactory way. If that doesn’t happen and you’re unhappy with the outcome, contact the person dealing with your complaint in writing again and inform them you’ll be referring the problem to the Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS).
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The FOS is an independent organisation which specifically resolves disputes between individuals and financial companies. Check out the FOS’s advice on how to complain. The FOS is completely free to use and may be able to help you claim compensation. But don’t be surprised if it takes some time to reach a resolution. If your complaint is complex it could take several months.
If you’re still not satisfied with the FOS’s final decision, you won’t be able to appeal. In this case it may be necessary to pursue your complaint through legal channels, but this will most likely incur legal fees.
10. Vote with your feet - After all this, you’ll probably have had more than enough of your bank. If you’ve lost faith, vote with your feet and switch. Moving current accounts is far more simple than you might think with some banks offering dedicated switching services. There are several high interest current accounts on the market - such as the Alliance & Leicester Premier Direct Account and the Santander Preferred In-Credit Rate Account - which are proving popular with consumers, which are certainly worth considering.
Do you have any tips on how to complain and win?
Ever fought a battle with a bank or company - and won? Tell us what happened and how you did it using the comments box below!