Aquick check of the Hong Kong Monetary Authority's internet site yields ample evidence of the body's limited consumer protection mandate. In a two-page guide on lodging complaints about banking services, the authority reminds us no fewer than five times that it has little power to investigate complaints or force remedial actions from banks. Little wonder that legislators are renewing calls for the creation of a banking-sector ombudsman. The demand comes after an announcement from the city's two largest banks that they will create a new type of fee and raise the charge for late credit card payments. At present, there are options for depositors who do not like the charges at HSBC and Hang Seng. But questions of whether fees are set reasonably and whether banks are competing fairly are sure to come up often as the sector consolidates and consumer options narrow. More and higher fees may be just a matter of time. The primary responsibility of the Hong Kong Monetary Authority (HKMA) is to safeguard the banking system. This includes acting as a central bank and administering the US-dollar peg. Its legal mandate has never extended to explicit protection of banking customers. In most cases, the HKMA will simply pass complaints on to banks and urge them to respond. The body does have a duty to investigate serious wrongdoing, but this provision is too weak to protect the public interest. As the guidelines warn, this power does not generally cover concerns about the cost or quality of bank services. Also, findings from investigations do not have to be disclosed and the HKMA has no power to direct compensation to customers. This large grey area will have to be addressed sooner or later. The two main options are giving the responsibility to the HKMA or assigning it to another body. The authority may not be the ideal candidate. As pointed out by authority chief executive Joseph Yam Chi-kwong, there is a contradiction between consumer protection and the duty to oversee the monetary system. If the task is to fall upon another body, there will be questions about what that body should be. An ombudsman specifically for the financial sector is an imperfect solution, but one that might have to be looked at in the absence of a broad competition law. In some markets, banking fees are monitored by competition bodies with statutory powers and a clear mandate to protect consumers. Something similar has long been necessary in Hong Kong, where cartels flourish in many areas of the domestic economy. But there are few signs the government plans to move in this direction. Until then, there will be calls for a separate banking ombudsman. And, given the trends in the sector, those calls are sure to grow more persistent.