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Banking ombudsman gives cautious welcome to complaints slowdown

Swiss Banking Ombudsman Hanspeter Häni

(Keystone Archive)

The Swiss Banking Ombudsman, Hanspeter Häni, says the number of complaints about banks slowed considerably in 2000 compared with previous years.

In his annual report on Tuesday, Häni said the number of complaints he received increased by 10 per cent last year to 1,605 cases. That is a significantly smaller rise than in previous years, when complaints went up on average by 25 per cent a year.

However, Häni told swissinfo that he wasn't ready to celebrate just yet.

"I don't know if it's a real fundamental change. In the first half of this year the increase in complaints accelerated again to 16.5 per cent so I am waiting to see what will happen."

The Ombudsman's office said that in more than a third of the 800 written complaints dealt with in 2000 it had asked the banks to clarify their position.
In 78 of the cases, the office sided with the customer, and that in 59 cases a compromise was found.

Häni explained that in most cases clients are increasingly confused because banking transactions are becoming more and more complex.

"The banks are offering more and more new services. In the process, errors can of course occur, and customers' complaints are not always taken seriously enough by the banks."

Despite the slowdown in complaints received the numbers were still up in 2000, but Häni doesn't feel this necessarily means the banks' services are deteriorating.

"Statistically, it cannot be proven that the banks are making more mistakes. I see this development as being due, rather, to the increasing insecurity of customers when faced with increasingly complex banking services."

The Swiss Banking Ombudsman's office was set up in 1993 by the Swiss Bankers Association as an impartial source of information and an intermediary between banks and disgruntled clients.

Hanspeter Häni has been the Banking Ombudsman since September 1995.
Increasingly his office is dealing with more complaints about electronic banking services via the Internet. But Häni believes that e-banking is easier to investigate than standard banking disputes.

"It's easier to find a solution because every step is documented in electronic banking. In standard banking, by contrast, sometimes you don't know if the client is right or the bank is right," added Häni.

by Tom O'Brien

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