Toronto, April 29, 2021 – The Ombudsman for Banking Services and Investments (OBSI) has released its Annual Report for 2020.
“The challenges of 2020 were unprecedented for OBSI, as they were for people and organizations around the world, in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Sarah Bradley, Ombudsman and CEO, “and I am proud of the outstanding performance of our organization through this difficult period. Our work for the year has taken place in the context of two overarching external challenges: the operational disruptions of the pandemic, and very high case volumes stemming from the related market volatility and economic stressors.”
During the year, case volumes increased significantly. In 2020, OBSI received 5,700 inquiries from the public, a 28% increase over the previous year, while the number of investigations opened also increased sharply to 791, a 23% jump compared to 2019. During the year, banking case volumes increased 31% year-over-year and investment cases increased 18%. However, these annual numbers do not fully reflect the trajectory of case volumes through the year.
“A significant portion of this increase occurred in the latter half of the fiscal year, following the dramatic market events that took place earlier in the year and the ongoing volatility and pandemic response measures,” said Ms. Bradley. “In the later quarters of the year, case volumes reached levels we have not experienced since the 2008 financial crisis.”
As in many Canadian organizations, OBSI staff rapidly transitioned to working from home in mid-March 2020 and continued to serve Canadians and financial services providers from these disbursed workplaces with no reduction in productivity or efficiency. “Our staff have overcome the challenges of the pandemic very effectively. In 2020, we were able to continue our multi-year trend of improving case closing times, despite higher case volumes,” said Ms. Bradley. In 2020, OBSI reduced the average days taken to complete a standard case by 15% year-over-year.
OBSI’s pandemic response also included the completion of important consumer-focused projects, including:
- A new online case submission form, which allows consumers to submit their complaint entirely online and gives them the ability to securely upload case documents and sign the consent form electronically. This new system has helped to significantly reduce average case opening time and better meet the needs of those consumers who prefer to interact digitally.
- A new Consumer Portal, which allows consumers to log in and see key information about their case, track its progress in real time, and securely upload documents to their file.
“Our employees’ dedication, commitment and professionalism throughout this challenging period ensured our ability to continue to help consumers and firms resolve their disputes fairly and inspire confidence in Canada’s financial services sector,” said Ms. Bradley.
Banking case highlights
Banking cases increased 31% year-over-year, from 254 cases in 2019 to 332 in 2020. The top concerns raised with OBSI by consumers in 2020, related to credit cards, personal accounts, and mortgage loans. Complaints relating to credit cards were the subject of 37% of all banking cases, while personal savings and chequing account complaints followed at 19%, and mortgage loan complaints represented 11% of all banking cases.
The leading credit card issue in 2020 was fraud. For personal savings and chequing accounts, service issues were the primary customer concerns, while pre-payment penalties were the top issue with mortgage products.
Investment case highlights
Investment complaints increased by 18% in 2020 to 459, up from 388 cases in 2019. Mutual funds were the most common product complained about, representing 37% of all investment complaints, a proportional decrease from 47% of cases in 2019. Common shares (equities) complaints increased in 2020 to represent 34% of investment-related complaints, up from 31% in 2019, and remained in the number two spot. Scholarship trust plans represented 9% of complaints, up from 8% in 2019.
The leading investment issue was the suitability of the investment. Suitability cases made up 19% of investment cases, down proportionally from 22% in 2019. Service issues were the next most frequent complaint at 14% compared to 10% in 2019, while concerns about misrepresented or inaccurate disclosure about a product also increased to 14% of complaints in 2020, up from 9% in 2019.
Canada’s Ombudsman for Banking Services and Investments (OBSI) is a national, independent and not-for-profit organization that helps resolve and reduce disputes between consumers and financial services firms in both official languages. OBSI is responsive to consumer inquiries, conducts fair and accessible investigations of unresolved disputes, and shares its knowledge and expertise with the stakeholders and the public. If a consumer has a complaint against an OBSI participating bank or investment firm that they are not able to resolve with the bank or firm, OBSI will investigate at no cost to the consumer. Where a complaint has merit, OBSI may recommend compensation up to a maximum of $350,000.