Written by: Nick Bregozzo

It’s a sign of the times that we find ourselves dealing with companies on a less personal level. Gone are the days where we would know the local bank manager’s name and when loans were approved on a handshake.

Times have changed and things have progressed. On the most part, progress is a good thing but it also has its disadvantages. These days, if we have a problem with a bank we can’t the local branch staff to have all the answers.

Banks, along with many other large organisations like telephone companies, now have a Complaint Handling Policies. Banks have introduced such policies to inform their customers of the procedure for complaint handling with a view to improving transparency, complying with legislative obligations and providing an accurate expectation to its consumers.

Despite such policies, it’s naive to think that complaints won’t happen from time to time and whilst we can all hope for the best, unfortunately complaints are inevitable.

In 2011/12, the Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS) received a total of 36,099 complaints from consumers, representing an increase from the previous year of 19%. That’s a lot of people complaining; in fact it’s a record number of people.

The vast majority of these complaints were about consumer credit, of which 8659 complaints were complaints from consumers suffering financial difficulty — up 42% from the previous year.

So, if you have a complaint with your bank, how would you go about raising and resolving it? Here are my 5 top tips for successfully making and resolving a dispute.

  1. Stay calm and be clear. It’s natural to become emotional when you feel that you have suffered a wrong doing but becoming emotional will never fix the problem. Take note of what happened and when including dates, times, amounts and people involved. Organise your thoughts and commit to writing what you want, that is what you believe will correct the issue. Read and understand the complaint handling policy so you know what to expect.
  2. Start at the bottom and work your way up. When you have a complaint, you should first call your bank or visit a branch. The frontline staff has probably experienced dealing with your situation before and may well be able to fix things on the first try. If not, you can escalate the matter. Take notes of what people have said to you, their names and times of the calls. In other words, diarise your dealings with the bank as you may never know when you will need to call upon this information in the future.
  3. Attitude and Persistence. Be polite and don’t interrupt when the Bank representative is speaking. If you are calm and polite, there is no excuse for them to terminate the call because if this happens, it’s just a waste of time. If you believe you have been wronged, stick by your guns and follow through, remaining committed to the process.
  4. Outside Help. So, you’ve done steps one, two and three and you still feel short changed. It’s now time to seek alternative support. External Dispute Resolution schemes exist to help consumers with complaints and they are absolutely free. Not only will they approach the bank on your behalf and forward your complaint to a dedicated team within the bank, but they can also assess the validity of your complaint and provide free advice. For instance, if you elect to contact the FOS, they could assess your issue and provide you their opinion as to the reasonableness of your issue and give you an unbiased, impartial perspective.
  5. Keep up with Payments. Just because the bank has allegedly done you wrong… doesn't… release you from your contractual obligations. You should keep you payments going as best you can and if there is a problem with this, speak to your bank and come to some arrangement in this regard.

If you need help because you have a problem with you bank, we recommend you address it head on. Be firm but polite and above all know your rights. And finally, if you have no satisfaction, take your business elsewhere.