How to complain and get results

PUBLISHED : Monday, 02 July, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 02 July, 2012, 12:00am


Few things in life are more frustrating than the feeling of being fleeced by a financial services company.

Whether you think you have been mis-sold a financial product, or are not happy with an insurance settlement, the complaints process can be long and bureaucratic, and consumers can easily feel the odds are stacked against them.

But you can improve your odds if you understand the system. So, Money Post has assembled a guide for complaints and grievances.

First - know this: regulators will not consider a complaint until you have discussed the problem with the company in question.

All banks have a complaints officer. Their names and contact addresses can be found on the Monetary Authority's (HKMA) website, under the section on consumer information.

If you are unhappy with the response from your bank, you have two options: take your complaint to the regulator or ask for mediation.

Last month, the government, HKMA and Securities and Futures Commission launched the Financial Dispute Resolution Centre.

The centre provides a simple route for redress to consumers with claims of up to HK$500,000. Fees start at HK$1,200.

The FDRC handles complaints only about firms authorised by the HKMA or the commission.

If consumers are unhappy with the mediation outcome, they may ask for arbitration. The FDRC will appoint someone who will review the case and has the power to award compensation to the consumer. The arbitrator's decision can be enforced in the courts.

Fees for arbitration start at HK$5,000 and rise to HK$12,500 if a hearing is needed.

Otherwise, a customer can take the complaint to the HKMA, which regulates banks.

Although the HKMA ensures banks handle consumer complaints in a 'fair and timely manner', and will investigate complaints that raise questions about business practices or the conduct of staff, it will not interfere with banks' commercial decisions, such as the fees they charge. Neither will it intervene in disputes between banks and their customers, or order banks to pay compensation.

However, if the HKMA does investigate a bank and rules against it, the consumer can use this as evidence if legal action is pursued.

The complaints process for insurance is more complicated.

As with banking products, consumers must first complain to the firm at the centre of the dispute.

If they are unhappy with that outcome and the complaint involves a claim of less than HK$800,000, they can contact the Insurance Claims Complaints Bureau (ICCB). The ICCB is a self-regulated body set up by the insurance industry and is free.

A consumer must lodge the complaint within six months of receiving a final decision on the dispute from the insurer. The ICCB may refer the case to another self-regulated industry body.

The Insurance Agents Registration Board looks at complaints against insurance intermediaries, whereas the Hong Kong Confederation of Insurance Brokers or the Professional Insurance Brokers Association looks at complaints against brokers.

Each group will handle a complaint only if it relates to a member firm or individual.

If consumers are unhappy with the response they receive from these bodies, they can refer their complaint to the ICCB.

In reality, very few consumers win a case through the ICCB, although a higher number are able to reach a settlement with their insurer as a result of its mediation.

Last year, the ICCB handled 495 cases, 145 of which were dismissed.

Among the 292 cases that were closed during the year, 61 were settled with the help of the ICCB.

Out of the 58 cases that went before the complaints panel, the panel found in favour of the consumer in just 12 cases. A little more than 70 consumers received compensation totalling HK$2.23 million due to ICCB involvement.

For disputes that fall outside the ICCB's jurisdiction, consumers may complain directly to the Office of the Commissioner of Insurance, which monitors the handling of complaints but, like the HKMA, will not intervene in commercial decisions. Nor will it order insurers to pay compensation.

It is also 'subject to the secrecy provisions of the Insurance Companies Ordinance', which may mean it cannot even disclose the outcome of its investigation.