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Opinion > HTB

FOS extension is a step in the right direction

Stuart Hulme, director of savings and marketing at Hampshire Trust Bank | 16:57 Wednesday 31st October 2018

The Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS) is an important organisation set up by parliament to resolve complaints between financial firms and their customers.

It plays a critical and integral role within the financial services industry. In the intervening decade since the 2008 financial crisis, the FOS has been pivotal in helping restore confidence and trust in banking.  

At Hampshire Trust Bank (HTB), we provide expert and high levels of customer service and always look to resolve issues quickly when our customers are unhappy. In fact, we view a customer complaint as an opportunity to create a positive impression and turn that customer into an advocate by the quality of how we respond. Sometimes, however, customers may choose to refer their complaint to a higher authority and this is where the FOS comes into play. If a firm and a customer can’t resolve a complaint themselves, the FOS can give an unbiased view about what’s happened and if it decides someone has been treated unfairly, is able to instruct financial firms to put things right.

The FCA recently announced plans to extend access to the FOS to SMEs with an annual turnover below £6.5m and fewer than 50 employees. Under the new rules, an estimated 210,000 additional UK SMEs will be eligible to refer unresolved complaints to the ombudsman. This is a major development. Until recently only firms with fewer than 10 staff and a balance sheet of £2m or less qualified.

At HTB, we provide savings accounts to business and personal customers. However, we also have a large cohort of SMEs who rely on us for asset finance, development finance and specialist mortgage loans. The FCA’s announcement is, therefore, of great significance to us. We support this decision, allowing more SMEs greater access to the FOS.

As a specialist bank, based solely in the UK, we are able to provide expert customer service to all of our customers. However, we accept that where complaints go unresolved or cannot be dealt with by our internal processes, no matter how robust and thorough, the FOS can then step in.

It is important that government and regulators continually look to review measures to protect consumers and small businesses. In the next few weeks, we will hear more from UK Finance – the banking trade body – about the independent review into the dispute and alternative dispute resolution (ADR) landscape, currently being carried out by Simon Walker, the former director-general of the Institute of Directors. 

We look forward to seeing these conclusions and hope that they provide practical and workable solutions to ensure fairer outcomes for SMEs. These businesses represent the backbone of our economy and it is important we have effective processes and organisations in place to help them when they have issues with their bank.

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