This is my first annual review as chair of the Financial Ombudsman
Service. I took over from the first chairman, Andreas Whittam Smith,
during the last few weeks of the year so this annual review
reflects the achievements of his last year as chairman.
Andreas steered the Financial Ombudsman Service during our set-up
phase bringing together the different organisational cultures
of the six previous complaints-handling schemes into a single organisation.
He rightly anticipated that we would need to meet very substantial
levels of demand and he ensured that we were well prepared. During
the year, the service has successfully managed a 44% annual increase
in complaint levels (following a 38% increase in the previous year).
The service has responded by creating new and flexible ways of working
to cope with this growth in external demand, striving continually
to improve performance.
During the year we also said farewell to Richard Thomas who left
the board to become the Information Commissioner. We are grateful
to both Richard and Andreas for their invaluable contribution to
the establishment of the Financial Ombudsman Service.
The retail financial services industry is likely to go through
some significant changes over the next few years. Alongside these
changes, the scope of our service is also growing. In April 2003
we opened our voluntary jurisdiction to mortgage and
insurance brokers as part of our preparations for covering
these sectors on a statutory basis in 2004/05.
These changes will bring tough new challenges for the ombudsman
service. Like all responsible public bodies, we will listen to our
stakeholders and take note of their expectations of us, seeking
to be open and transparent about reasons for ombudsman decisions.
We will retain our even-handed approach to settling disputes between
the industry and its customers and strive to give access to all
who need our assistance.
Looking ahead, the job for me and the board is to give strategic
support to the management team so that building on the sound
foundations already established the ombudsman service can
continue to anticipate and respond to external changes and meet
the many demands that lie ahead of us.
Sue Slipman OBE