AFCA marks 5-year milestone with over 400,000 financial disputes resolved

By Our Reporter
David Locke, Chief Ombudsman and Chief Executive Officer of the Australian Financial Complaints Authority // Pic supplied

Australia’s financial landscape has seen significant shifts in the past five years, marked by challenges such as a global pandemic, fluctuating interest rates, and an increase in scams and natural disasters. Amid these turbulent times, the Australian Financial Complaints Authority (AFCA) has emerged as a crucial pillar in resolving financial disputes. Celebrating its fifth anniversary, AFCA has reached a significant milestone, having addressed over 400,000 complaints from consumers, securing a total of $1.2 billion in compensation and refunds.

Established on 1 November 2018, AFCA serves as a non-government ombudsman, offering free, fair, and independent assistance in financial disagreements. Its role extends across various financial services sectors, including banking, credit, insurance, investment, and superannuation. AFCA’s journey began after the 2017 Ramsay Review, which advocated for a unified platform to manage disputes previously handled by the Financial Ombudsman Service, the Credit and Investments Ombudsman, and the Superannuation Complaints Tribunal.

The scale of AFCA’s impact is evident in the numbers: 402,346 complaints registered, $1.18 billion in compensation or refunds for consumers and small businesses, and an impressive 68% resolution rate through agreement. Only 6% of the cases required a formal decision, highlighting the efficacy of AFCA’s mediation and resolution strategies.

AFCA’s Chief Executive Officer and Chief Ombudsman, David Locke, emphasizes the personal element behind each complaint. He recognises the stress financial disputes can cause to individuals, families, and small businesses. AFCA’s approach is not just about resolving cases but also about restoring public confidence in the financial services sector.

The diversity of cases handled by AFCA reflects the array of challenges faced by consumers and businesses. The organisation has worked with over 16,500 victims of scams, assisted more than 7,500 people affected by natural disasters (excluding COVID-19), and supported over 30,000 individuals experiencing financial hardship. Furthermore, it has addressed more than 17,000 COVID-related complaints, including disputes involving travel insurance and superannuation.

AFCA’s systemic issues work, which extends beyond individual complaints to identify broader sector-wide issues, has led to more than 4.9 million people receiving over $340 million. This aspect of their operation highlights AFCA’s commitment to not only resolving individual disputes but also contributing to the overall betterment of the financial services sector.

In the last financial year, AFCA recorded a record 97,000 complaints, underscoring the increasing need for its services. Locke hopes for improved in-house complaint handling by firms, reducing the necessity for escalation to AFCA. He lauds the 70% of AFCA Scheme member firms that have never had a complaint reach AFCA, acknowledging their role in maintaining a robust financial system.

AFCA’s performance has been recognised in a Treasury-led Independent Review in 2021, which affirmed its impartiality and fairness jurisdiction, particularly in a challenging operating environment and evolving regulatory landscape. As a not-for-profit entity funded by fees and charges from member firms, AFCA offers a cost-effective and efficient alternative to court proceedings for both firms and consumers.

As it stands, AFCA is a testament to the resilience and adaptability of Australia’s financial dispute resolution framework. The organisation’s first five years mark a period of significant contribution to both consumers and the financial industry, ensuring fair play and confidence in financial dealings. With its continued dedication to fairness and efficiency, AFCA is well-positioned to navigate the complexities of Australia’s financial landscape in the years ahead.

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