2021 Media releases

6 September 2021: Complaints about banks up, but dispute numbers down

Complaints about banks were up 6 per cent on the previous financial year, although dispute numbers were down 3 per cent, according to the Banking Ombudsman Scheme’s latest annual report.

Banking Ombudsman Nicola Sladden said she attributed the rise in complaints to a greater willingness by customers to seek help when they had problems with their bank.

“We encourage customers to speak up, ask questions and make complaints. It’s inevitable that things will sometimes go wrong. What matters is how problems are put right.”

Ms Sladden credited the scheme’s early resolution service for the drop in disputes, saying it resolved 96 per cent of complaints without escalation.

“The key is to nip problems in the bud early. When people have problems, they need to be heard and responded to as quickly as possible.

“Our new fast-track process for resolving complaints by customers in financial difficulty proves this point, and we’ve seen cases where banks have responded with exemplary promptness and support.”

In total, 3,149 people made complaints to the scheme during 2020-21, while a further 1,524 made enquiries and 140 escalated their complaints to disputes.

Ms Sladden said unclear or inadequate communication was at the root of many of the complaints.

The most common complaints were about bank accounts and lending (home loans, credit cards, overdrafts, personal and business loans). This was followed by payment methods (such as internet banking and overseas transfers), bank cards and investments.

She said the closure of branches and ending of cheques had also resulted in complaints.

“COVID-19 has accelerated the already rapid change to digital, contactless banking. Although banks have provided help for this transition, there’s no doubt some people have felt left behind.

“We continue to receive a steady stream of complaints from people who had lost money in scams or through fraud. Scams, including telco, romance and investment scams, can affect anyone and can be truly devastating. We urge people to be extra careful online, and to contact their bank immediately if they think they’ve been scammed.

“In general, we consider whether banks have treated customers fairly, communicated clearly and acted with reasonable care.”

The report features cases where banks fell short in these areas. These include giving an inadequate response to a hardship request, offering unaffordable credit increases, and ignoring a problem gambler’s request not to be given personal credit.

Ms Sladden said the scheme’s work also had a prevention focus, which included analysing complaints and sharing the resulting insights.

Two milestones during the year were the establishment of a dashboard to track complaints about banks and a whistleblowing service to help to improve conduct in the sector. The dashboard revealed banks reported more than 100,000 complaints during the financial year.

See the annual report here.

30 June 2021: Over 700 credit card complaints received this year, says Banking Ombudsman

The Banking Ombudsman Scheme has received over 700 credit card complaints this year (from 1 July 2020).

“Banks reported nearly 8,000 customer complaints about credit cards from January to December last year,” says Banking Ombudsman Nicola Sladden. “Many of those complaints were resolved quickly, with less than 10 percent referred to our free and independent service to investigate.” 

Two recent Banking Ombudsman investigations highlight the need to speak up if you need extra help, or if you are in a vulnerable situation. “Banks are required to communicate clearly and effectively, to treat customers fairly, and to provide extra support to those who need it,” says Ms Sladden. “While banks are working hard to improve customer care, particularly for those experiencing vulnerabilities, some customers can fall through the cracks.”

3 March 2021: Banks share complaint data and launch staff whistleblowing service

Banks are sharing their complaint data and encouraging staff to raise concerns through an independent whistleblowing service.

Minister of Commerce and Consumer Affairs David Clark says “New Zealanders rightly expect banks to operate with high integrity, and to treat their customers and staff fairly. I’m pleased to launch the Banking Ombudsman Scheme’s complaints dashboard and independent whistleblowing service. These initiatives will help achieve higher standards of conduct, culture and customer care across financial services in New Zealand.”