Grievances against banks, insurers go up

More complaints were made against banks and financial companies.
More complaints were made against banks and financial companies. ST PHOTO: CAROLINE CHIA

Most gripes linked to practices, policies, market conduct of firms

Despite measures to raise industry standards, the number of complaints against financial institutions has shot up.

There were 1,162 complaints lodged in the 12 months to June 30, up from 903 in the same period a year earlier, the Financial Industry Disputes Resolution Centre (Fidrec) said yesterday.

It noted that 442 complaints were made against banks and financial companies, up from 299 previously.

Life insurers came next, attracting 434 complaints, an increase from 331. General insurers were next with 218 complaints while licensed financial advisers and insurance brokers got off lightly with only 41.

The bulk of the complaints - 629 in the latest year - are centred on an institution's practices and policies, including pricing, policy values, investment returns and disputes on liability and claims awarded. There were 485 complaints of this nature in the previous year.

There were also 444 complaints involving market conduct issues, including fraud, misrepresentation and inappropriate advice and aggressive sales tactics. This was up from the 322 complaints in the previous 12 months.

The Consumers Association of Singapore (Case) said it is concerned about the rise in complaints and that more needs to be done by industry stakeholders to address the underlying issues.

"For example, banks should look into making terms for liability claims clearer and explain such terms to the consumer to minimise disputes over liability claims," said Case executive director Seah Seng Choon.

"Insurers can also ensure that their agents have the proper training and discipline to make appropriate insurance recommendations to their clients and provide full disclosure of all the facts to allow their clients to make an informed decision.

"There should also be periodic reviews of the measures that financial institutions need to adhere to, to ensure that their representatives fall in line with the requirement."

Fidrec chief executive Ng Wee Jin said the statistics only cover cases where consumers have turned to Fidrec as they had not been able to resolve the issues with financial institutions.

"Market conduct related complaints are more complex. In such cases, the evidence of whether there has been any wrongdoing may not be so clear from the onset. It is therefore not surprising that Fidrec sees a larger percentage of such cases," said Mr Ng.

There have been calls from Case and members of the public to Fidrec to disclose more details of the claims to increase consumer and business awareness on financial disputes.

Mr Seah suggested that Fidrec could publish dispute details showing a brief summary of the case, the dispute resolution process and decision without naming the parties involved.

"Such disclosures will be helpful to educate the public on the pain points in the financial industry. Hopefully the public will learn to avoid the pitfalls in this industry," said Mr Seah.

Fidrec was set up in 2005 to handle disputes between consumers and financial institutions up to $100,000 for policyholders and their insurers, and $50,000 for those involving banks.

Case said Fidrec could consider reviewing the claim limits for insurance, banking and motor accident disputes for consistency and fairness.

Fidrec responded that it initiated a review of its jurisdiction last year, and the relevant announcements will be made when appropriate.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 29, 2016, with the headline 'Grievances against banks, insurers go up'. Print Edition | Subscribe