Canada’s banks are rock-solid, immensely profitable and occasionally hell to deal with.
Ask anybody with a chequing or savings account: Ironing out a problem with one’s financial institution is no longer as simple as strolling into the local branch manager’s office.
So the news that yet another big bank is opting to break with the country’s not-for-profit national banking ombudsman is not great for consumers.
The Bank of Nova Scotia is following the lead of the Royal Bank of Canada and Toronto-Dominion Bank and withdrawing from the Ombudsman for Banking Services and Investments (OBSI) in favour of a private, for-profit customer-complaint arbiter.
This is happening because federal rules allow it. Groups representing a range of interests, from consumer advocates and seniors’ activists to shareholder-rights organizations, argue it’s time Ottawa changed those rules.
They’re right. Our banks should not be allowed to choose their own umpires. Ottawa should make them stick with the OBSI.
There are good reasons for this. The indispensability of banks already puts customers at a disadvantage. As well, Canada’s chartered banks are robust and stable in large part because of the federal rules that both heavily regulate them and shield them from competition. Canadian consumers are owed a mechanism for dispute resolution that is not only fair but is perceived to be fair.
According to the OBSI, consumer complaints about things like excessive fees, unsatisfactory service and inscrutable mortgage penalties rose 28 per cent in 2017. At the same time, successful petitions for redress amounted in total to $165,000 in compensation last year. The OBSI is not exactly pushing banks to the brink of insolvency.
Plus, the pace of change is accelerating in the industry. A 2017 Canadian Bankers Association survey found 51 per cent of us primarily conduct financial transactions on the internet. Another 17 per cent rely on mobile devices.
Modern banking requires little human contact these days, which is all the more reason customers need someone they can rely on when they need help.