Bank complaints hit record high

TORONTO — More complaints were filed by consumers against Canada’s financial industry last year than ever recorded before, as tumbling stock markets left some customers caught in disputes with their financial advisers.

TORONTO — More complaints were filed by consumers against Canada’s financial industry last year than ever recorded before, as tumbling stock markets left some customers caught in disputes with their financial advisers.

The Ombudsman for Banking Services and Investments reported that it opened 990 cases in 2009, a 48 per cent increase over the previous year.

The national organization also processed more than 12,400 individual inquiries in 2009.

Ombudsman Douglas Melville said a growing number of filings have been made against the investment industry in recent years, and that 2009 was no exception.

“The global economic crisis, coupled with sharp declines in financial markets, gave rise to much of the increase in complaints we saw,” Melville said.

“However, despite the improvement in the markets over the last year, complaint volumes remain high. We expect this to continue.”

Last year, 599 of the cases were related to the investment industry, an increase of 71 per cent, while 391 were banking cases, an increase of 21 per cent.

Melville said that banking complaints often involved mortgage pre-payment penalties, lines of credit and fraud.

“On the investment side, the vast majority of cases were related to the suitability of investment advice,” Melville said.

“Investment advisers need to fulfil their ‘know your client’ obligations as well as explain the risks and characteristics of the products they are recommending.”

The ombudsman said that 28 per cent of cases reviewed last year received compensation, with 20 per cent of banking complaints compensated and 35 per cent of investment complaints.

In response to the findings, the Canadian Bankers Association said that the 391 banking cases examined by the ombudsman represent about one in every one-hundred thousand transactions that are made at Canadian banks each year.

“With such a huge volume of transactions, mistakes can sometimes happen and we want to make things right,” said CBA spokeswoman Maura Drew-Lytle in an email.

“But there are also many cases where a customer is unhappy with a situation and escalates their complaint when the bank was within its rights.”

Drew-Lytle said banking customers can also use a free complaint-handling system designed to resolve consumer complaints, before filing a complaint outside the banking industry.

The ombudsman’s office can investigate complaints from clients of financial institutions, including banks, investment dealers, trust companies, mutual fund dealers, credit unions and scholarship trust plans.

Its services are free to consumers, and it can recommend compensation of up to $350,000.