Who’s got a complaint about the banks?
With every Irish citizen and half the euro zone suffering as a result of the activities of cash-devouring, nest-feathering bankers, it might be a more sensible question to ask who hasn’t got a complaint about the banks? This morning saw the release of the latest update from the Financial Services Ombudsman, Bill Prasifka, which reveals that disputes with financial institutions remain close to record levels. Some 3,631 complaints were received in the first six months of 2010, with a third of them originating from the big bad banks as opposed to insurance, investment or pension companies.
Of course, taxpayers pretty much own the entire banking sector now. Are they being any nicer to us? Not according to Prasifka, who notes that his office, now operating on a lower budget, ordered almost €1.3 million in compensation to be paid to customers during the period. “This is an indication that some financial institutions are not making sufficient effort to resolve complaints at an earlier stage,” he said.
So that’s €1.3 million recouped as a result of financial sector gall and misdemeanour. A shame that getting the rest of the billions back is going to prove a bit trickier.
But let’s look at one of the more delightful practices that the banks inflicted upon their struggling customers. The ombudsman said today he has 40 cases on his books of mortgage borrowers who were persuaded and/or forced to abandon their favourable tracker mortgages in favour of fixed- or variable-rate loans. Such a manoeuvre had the effect of lessening (by a fraction) the margin-draining effect of trackers on the banks – given the dismal state of their margins today, it was/is a generally futile exercise. But such policies have had a much more profound effect on those who were convinced to switch, as it typically costs them hundreds of euro a month in higher interest payments.
The ombudsman’s office is now wrestling with the idea of whether such decisions were “informed choices” on the part of consumers (some of whom may have reckoned they could save money in the short term by fixing). It’s pretty clear, however, that it was a swindle. Consumers could not have been “informed”, as the lenders were, that tracker mortgages would be withdrawn, leaving them locked into endless rounds of interest rate hikes while tracker customers continue to enjoy historically low European Central Bank (ECB) rates.
Since then, the Financial Regulator has continued to warn – as late as last August - that lenders were convincing borrowers to “remortgage” onto far pricier loans. It cited “poor levels of disclosure”, which is still about as close a euphemism to “lies” that consumers can expect from their watchdogs.