Anyone (particularly insomniacs) watching a local television channel recently may have seen the public broadcast advert for Hong Kong's new Financial Dispute Resolution Centre (FDRC). What is the FDRC? It is a one-stop shop for settling disputes between individual investors and financial institutions. It involves mediation and arbitration (med-arb). The financial institution must be regulated by the Securities & Futures Commission or Hong Kong Monetary Authority. Institutions providing credit-rating services are excluded. An individual investor can lodge a written claim with the FDRC, preferably after checking out the centre's website and contact details www.fdrc.org.hk The centre can offer briefing sessions in Cantonese or English to would-be claimants. What is an eligible claim? It is one that, among things, stems from a financial service received by an individual or a sole proprietor that involves less than HK$500,000, including interest. The power to determine whether a claim is eligible lies with the FDRC. Its terms of reference are required reading for prospective claimants and financial institutions' in-house lawyers and compliance officers. Are there any formalities and fees? An individual has to give written notice of his or her claim to the financial institution and give it at least 60 days to reply, or receive a final written reply, before filing a claim. Assuming there is no satisfactory resolution, the claimant should complete an application form and deliver it in person (together with supporting documents) to the council. There is a non-refundable fee of HK$200. The mediation and arbitration fees are set out in Annex 1 of the FDRC's terms of reference, with the financial institution paying the lion's share. The fees are less than most ordinary commercial mediations or arbitrations. If a claimant lodges a complaint with the Insurance Claims Complaints Bureau or commences legal proceedings (including proceedings in the Small Claims Tribunal) against the financial institution while the claim is being processed by the FDRC, the council will drop the claim. What is "med-arb"? Mediation is a confidential dispute resolution process facilitated by a neutral third party. The mediator will be chosen from the FDRC's list of approved mediators. In small claims, the choice is limited to a few names offered by the council. The mediator should start as soon as possible. The mediation will normally be limited to four hours but can be extended with the agreement of the parties. The mediator has no power to make a monetary award. The outcome does not establish liability or fault beyond the enforcement value set out in the settlement agreement. If the dispute cannot be resolved by mediation, the claimant can make a written request to proceed to arbitration. Arbitration is also confidential but more formal than mediation. The arbitration will usually be "documents-only". An "in-person" arbitration hearing will only be allowed if the arbitrator decides that is necessary and the parties are willing to pay the extra fees. An arbitrator may permit legal representation at an "in-person" arbitration; in that event, recoverable legal costs are capped at HK$25,000. An arbitration award cannot exceed HK$500,000. Can I take my lawyer? Parties are, of course, entitled to take legal or expert advice with respect to their rights. However, legal fees will not be recoverable in the mediation and lawyers (including in-house lawyers) will not be allowed to attend the mediation. A party may be accompanied, however, by one or more persons who are not their legal representative to assist and advise them during a FDRS mediation.