The FOS conciliation pilot was launched in June 2016, with a view to offering a more efficient service and increasing the satisfaction of all parties to a dispute.
Over the course of the year-long pilot, we found that including a compulsory conciliation stage resulted in faster resolutions, even when disputes weren’t resolved during the conciliation.
We also found that both parties experienced benefits as a result of having a conciliation.
Eighty percent of applicants taking part in the pilot indicated that they had a positive experience. Eighty-seven percent thought the process and conciliator were fair.
Financial services providers (FSPs) provided feedback that they believed some cases that wouldn’t normally have been resolved had closed a lot quicker as a result of the conciliation.
We talked to a complaints case manager from a member FSP to find out her thoughts on the benefits of conciliation.
Sarah (name changed) used to think conciliations were a waste of time. She felt that in most cases, the FSP would already have made its position clear, and she didn't see the point of repeating the same information in a telephone conciliation conference.
Her experience in the conciliation pilot changed her view.
'A conciliation opens a channel of communication between both parties. It’s not just having FOS as a middleman,' Sarah explained.
'Not all parties can articulate themselves properly in writing. A conciliation gives people the opportunity to speak freely and to be understood. Both parties are able to clarify matters from both sides.'
Sarah explained that the three conciliations she had participated in had all been successful.
'When I say successful, I don't mean that we won. Instead, I mean it in the sense that both parties were understood and received the opportunity to express their side of the situation,' Sarah said.
'I found that the applicant was allowed to have their say and voice their concerns. As a representative of the bank, I was able to explain our position and the limitations we faced.
'We got a chance to find out if there was any way to resolve the matter and also got a better understanding of why the applicant was asking for what they were asking.
'For example, we had a customer whose claim was not covered because he had not paid his monthly instalments. I thought a conciliation was a waste of time because all it would do was repeat everything that had already been in writing. However, the applicant was an elderly man who might have had trouble understanding what was in writing. After the conciliation conference, where both sides got the chance to express their views, the applicant decided not to go ahead with the claim.
'Even though no new information was brought up in this case, the conciliation still had a good result, because the applicant could now understand where we were coming from, and vice versa.'
And far from creating extra work for FSPs, Sarah felt that having to read over the existing information and responses prior to the conciliation was actually extremely useful.
'I have undergone a big shift in my view. All matters can be addressed with conciliation. I initially thought only certain matters, such as compensation, warranted conciliation in terms of understanding why the applicant was asking for a certain amount. But now I think all matters, even if the position is clear, and in black and white to begin with, can be addressed with conciliation.
'For example, after a certain conciliation, I was able to understand why the applicant was asking for a certain amount of money as compensation. I put this request forward to my management. This amount was approved, and the applicant got what they asked for. This was because we weighed up the cost of settling, versus not settling, which would have meant we would have to pay FOS more for the cost of carrying the dispute further. This could only have happened after I got the chance to hear the applicant’s side of the situation.
'Having the FOS conciliator is definitely beneficial and allays concerns one might have about not knowing what to expect,' Sarah added.
We have continued to increase conciliations and encourage parties to participate. We have also developed an intensive training and accreditation program to ensure more FOS case workers have the skills needed to conduct conciliations on their own files. So far, 27 case workers have completed the accreditation program.
We encourage FSPs to speak with a FOS case worker if they would like to participate in conciliation on a current or future dispute. If an FSP would like to increase the number of conciliations they take part in, please contact Anna Mandoki, Senior Manager, Financial Difficulty on [email protected].