The number of complaints from Swiss bank customers fell 14 per cent in 2005 but the banking ombudsman expects a rise in credit card and investment gripes this year.This content was published on July 4, 2006 - 17:04
The ombudsman, Hanspeter Häni, followed up half of the 1,495 cases received last year and upheld some 140. More than SFr1 million ($816,000) was paid out by banks to rectify errors.
The figures in the banking ombudsman's annual report in Zurich on Tuesday also revealed that the proportion of complaints submitted by customers living abroad had risen.
Deputy ombudsman Martin Tschan put this down to the more complex nature of investments generally held by foreign customers in private banks compared with the relatively straightforward home retail banking market.
"The increasingly complex range of financial products makes it more difficult for the customer to understand and also makes it harder for us to judge who is to blame, if anyone," he told swissinfo. "In many cases customers simply fail to read contracts properly."
This is reflected by a change in the nature of complaints levelled against the banks' wealth management schemes.
Five years ago general administrative hiccups caused most annoyance to customers holding such investments, but the majority of moans now centre on specific advice and actions taken by fund managers.
"This is just a human reaction. When investments do well, customers give themselves the credit, but when they have less money in their pocket they look for a third party to blame," said Tschan.
A quarter of complaints concerned credit cards, reflecting the growing criminal trend in credit card fraud and online financial scams.
The ombudsman called on individuals to be more protective of their codes and for banks to set sensible daily spending limits to reduce the risk of accounts being raided.
But the office has so far this year not had any complaints relating to banking secrecy in the wake of revelations that the CIA has been monitoring foreign financial transactions at the Brussels-based international clearing house, Swift.
Swiss banks have been criticised for failing to inform customers of potential breaches of secrecy, but evidence of a backlash has yet to materialise.
"We only receive a handful of complaints about secrecy each year," said Tschan. "Most of our work is spent dealing with transaction errors, credit card abuse, financial advice and disputes over paying off credit."
swissinfo, Matthew Allen in Zurich
The 1,495 complaints received by the banking ombudsman in 2005 was down by 240 on the previous year.
Some 782 (52%) were followed up in writing, and of these, the ombudsman found 18% (140) in favour of the customer and 20% (156) in favour of the bank. The rest were either not in the ombudsman's competence or a clear-cut solution could not be found.
Some 37% of complaints came from foreign customers, up 5% on 2004.
The office projects credit card gripes to rise by 1.7% this year.
The post of Swiss banking ombudsman was created in 1993 and is sponsored by the Swiss Banking Ombudsman Foundation, established by the Swiss Bankers Association.
The office is independent and impartial and offers services free of charge. It deals with on average around 1,500 complaints a year
Current ombudsman Hanspeter Häni took up post on September 1, 2005. He is supported by a team of lawyers, economists and bankers, including deputy Martin Tschan.
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