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ombudsman news

issue 128

September 2015

lasting impressions

For me, there’s always a “back-to-school” feeling about September. Even for those of us whose days in the classroom are well behind us, with summer over we’re definitely into the second half of the financial year. For younger people especially, it can be a month of anticipation – with many preparing for college, university or working life, and all the new experiences those bring.

Perhaps things were simpler in the past, but I don’t think the “skint student” stereotype reflects the real complexity of money matters for young people. Whether they’re living with parents or moving out, alone or with others, young adulthood is generally a time of increasing independence. And whether it’s managing a household budget, using a car or bike to get around, or buying and protecting their belongings, a good part of that independence relies on financial services.

It’s also likely that – particularly considering the host of other challenges and uncertainties many younger people have to deal with – using financial services for the first time may be daunting. From a business perspective, getting off on the right foot with their youngest customers may play a key part in keeping them in the long term.

But from the situations we see, it’s clear that treating younger customers fairly – and avoiding problems – isn’t simply a question of offering products to match their lifestyles, or just about using the latest technology to interact with them. In fact, as our case studies in this issue highlight, it’s seemingly simple steps like explaining things extra clearly that can make all the difference to those first and lasting impressions.

In this ombudsman news, we also take a closer look at the complaints we receive from the very smallest companies and traders – who together account for 95% of businesses in the UK. In a recent review of complaints that reach us, we found two thirds of businesses who used our service were made up only of one or two people. And while these people may be experts in their own field, they’re rarely experts in the financial products and services their livelihoods depend on.

Unfortunately – for everyone involved – it seems some business people felt let down by the support they’d received from a financial provider. Rather than something going technically wrong, we often found there’d been a simple – but crucial – misunderstanding about what support was actually ever available. Again, it’s just common sense that understanding customers’ experience and expectations – bearing in mind their individual circumstances and stage in life – can prevent difficulties and disappointment later on.

Of course, it’s important to talk about the good news, too. It’s really encouraging to see indications that, compared with other sectors, many financial businesses are doing well – and getting better – in their customers’ eyes. And every day at the ombudsman, we see examples of the care and effort businesses take in putting right problems and addressing customers’ concerns.

While September may not mean new adventures for everyone, the “beginning of term” is a time to take stock and look forward. And making sure we’re all understanding what other people need from us – and the impressions they’re getting right from the start – seem a good focus for the months ahead.

Caroline Wayman

Caroline Wayman
Caroline Wayman
chief ombudsman

ombudsman news gives general information on the position at the date of publication. It is not a definitive statement of the law, our approach or our procedure.

The illustrative case studies are based broadly on real-life cases, but are not precedents. Individual cases are decided on their own facts.