I have been chair of the Financial Ombudsman Service for less than two months. So it would be absurd to suggest that I have yet learnt everything I need to know. The first period in any new job brings its challenges - and one of them is climbing a steep learning curve. But newcomers often have initial insights that are too easily lost as over time they get more immersed in the organisation. So, perhaps I have been here long enough to share my first impressions with you.
Actually, my very first impressions of the ombudsman service were formed months ago when I was looking through its website and reading copies of its annual reports and ombudsman news. I was impressed with the openness and accessibility of these materials and the even-handed nature of the ombudsman service approach. An organisation that speaks in the plain language of the non-expert rather than in acronyms and jargon is a joy. My second impressions were formed by talking to stakeholders - such as those working in consumer advice agencies - who see the ombudsman service as genuinely listening to them and trying hard to respond to their needs.
When I arrived in post I found a well-managed, professional and cost-effective organisation where a great deal has been achieved in a short space of time. Bringing together the different organisational cultures of the six previous schemes into a coherent whole was no mean feat in itself. But I consider it truly admirable to have done this at the same time as undergoing a significant amount of internal change. This change was needed to create sufficient flexibility to cope with the wide-ranging and unpredictable levels of external demand.
And on top of this, the ombudsman service has successfully managed a 44% increase in its caseload over this past year.
The Financial Ombudsman Service is now at the end of its initial - set-up - phase. In my view, it has met all these challenges and established its independence in a positive way. But the retail financial services industry is likely to go through some significant changes over the next few years. In turn, these changes will bring tough new challenges for the ombudsman service as it strives to settle disputes between the industry and its customers.
At present I am still in listening and learning mode. I am sitting in with different teams of staff to learn more about their work. I am also getting out and about meeting representatives of the industry, as well as consumer and other interest groups, listening to the issues they want to raise and finding out what they expect of the ombudsman service.
Looking ahead, the job for the board and me is to give strategic support to the management team who run the organisation so that - building on the very sound foundations already established - the ombudsman service can continue to anticipate and respond to external changes and meet the many demands that I'm sure lie ahead of us.
Sue Slipman, newly-appointed chair of the Financial Ombudsman Service, shares her first impressions of the ombudsman service.
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.
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