I have just completed my first month at the ombudsman service. During that time, as well as getting to know the different teams here, I've been busy starting to meet some of our key external stakeholders - including financial businesses, trade bodies and groups that work to support consumers. I have been receiving a great deal of positive feedback and I am looking forward to meeting more of our stakeholders over the coming months.
Stakeholders with good memories have been reminding me that this month marks the tenth anniversary of the Financial Ombudsman Service. At the outset, when the different ombudsman schemes came together to form the new service, there were around 350 staff in total. We have certainly come a long way in the ten years since then, with a current headcount of 1,500 and all the challenges that come with a much bigger organisation - including a substantially-increased caseload.
Despite this, the organisation has held firmly to its founding values and principles. As I have started to familiarise myself with the work of our case-handling teams, I have been impressed by the care they take to ensure the service they provide is fair, reasonable and impartial.
At the time of writing, we are in the final stages of preparing our annual review, covering the financial year 2009/2010. This will be published in May and illustrates the organisation's considerable achievements over the past year. These include resolving record volumes of cases and reaching out to consumers from a wider range of backgrounds than ever before.
Looking to the year ahead, we've been examining the varied challenges that face us, discussing the targets that really matter, and deciding which will form our main focus. We are also taking stock of how the expectations of consumers have changed over the ten years since the Financial Ombudsman Service was set up - and deciding how best we can continue to meet those expectations.
Advances in technology and digital information have revolutionised the way in which many people now lead their lives. These advances have also radically altered the type and speed of service they now expect. But at the same time, those consumers without access to the latest technology can find themselves increasingly disadvantaged - with fewer options and with more limited access to services than ever before.
So an important challenge for us, as for other service-providers, will be to ensure we keep up with the demands of those who expect ever-quicker and less formal ways of communicating with us - while we also remain fully accessible for those who are not so up-to-date with technology.
In the expanded Q&A section of this issue of ombudsman news we cover some of the recent developments we have been working on, in response to the changing needs of our users. These include new, more user-friendly forms for PPI complaints, tighter timescales as part of our standard process, and a new style of communication from our casehandlers. There's also an update on a new phone number we're introducing to give our customers more choice.
I very much welcome feedback on all these issues - and I look forward to hearing the views and comments of our ombudsman news readers.
chief executive and 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.