Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Individual Investors Need a Strong Ombudsman

OBSI. It looks like another boring acronym ... until your investment advisor screws up costing you money, refusing to reimburse or compensate you when you complain. Then the OBSI (Ombudsman for Banking Services and Investments) becomes a top of mind way to get redress.

It seems to have been doing too good a job, at least for investors, since the financial industry is now ganging up to undercut, criticise and opt out of OBSI being the one and only dispute resolution body (see various articles in the Financial Post over the last few months).

In fact, far from being watered down the OBSI needs to be protected and strengthened as a recent review commissioned by the OBSI Board suggests in the package of balanced recommendations that meets both consumer and justifiable industry interests. But the industry thinks the report is "delusional" according to a quoted reaction in a Financial Post article by Theresa Tedesco.

The financial industry needs to realize is that in-reality fair, and perceived-by-consumers to be fair, dispute resolution is good for it. One of the lasting psychological effects of the credit crunch is that bankers and investment dealers are a bunch of devious, avaricious crooks (witness the "Occupy" protests), lining their pockets and then letting taxpayers or investors take the fall. The industry's current campaign against OBSI reinforces the negative perception by showing unwillingness to fix errors or misdeeds . As both a shareholder in Canadian financial firms (directly and through ETFs) and an investor / consumer I want to see a fair, balanced system, not one that stacks all the advantages on one side (the FP Tedesco article cited above makes reference to the statistic that industry already wins 70% of cases adjudicated by OBSI - is it only 100% that is acceptable?).

It's not just perception either. When effective penalties are known to occur, firms will tend to improve their internal processes and controls so that problems don't arise in the first place. Industry calls this zero defects or six sigma. Consumers call this peace of mind.

What really needs to happen is for the federal minister of Finance Jim Flaherty to put the OBSI function on a stronger footing through permanent legislative authority on a national level, instead of its present voluntary, industry-funded status and to include insurance in its mandate.

1 comment:

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