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ombudsman news

issue 70

June / July 2008

unsung heroes

Last month the consumer organisation Which- called us the "unsung hero of the world of financial regulation". But I want to point to some financial services practitioners who deserve a pat on the back - those who serve on our industry liaison groups.

When the Financial Ombudsman Service was first set up as a single statutory scheme, there was some concern that we might lose the two-way channel of communication provided by those practitioners who had served on the boards of many of the former schemes.

So we decided to set up three separate liaison groups - for insurance, banking and loans, and investment. We invited trade associations to nominate members and to identify an individual from each relevant industry sector to chair the groups.

Each of these liaison groups has worked well over the last eight years. They function as a useful forum - enabling industry practitioners and senior representatives of the ombudsman service to exchange information and to update each other on current issues. Serving on these groups is not the stuff of great excitement, nor, I suspect, does it lead to recognition or promotion for the industry members involved. Indeed, I wonder how many practitioners across the financial services world are aware of the work these groups carry out.

No doubt there are ways in which their operations might be improved - but in his recent review of the ombudsman service, Lord Hunt has suggested that they should be abolished and that their functions could be transferred to the Financial Services Practitioner Panel and the FSA's Smaller Businesses Practitioner Panel. These panels have heavy agendas, mainly concerned with the work of the FSA. So I am not sure they would have room for our business. And, by their nature, these panels have to be generalist in their approach.

So the answer may, instead, be to bring more visibility and transparency to the ombudsman's industry liaison groups - by letting industry practitioners and the public see more of their work.

In the meantime thanks are due to those unsung heroes and heroines who serve - and have served - on these groups.

Walter Merricks
chief ombudsman

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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.