David Prosser: Give the banks a break

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The Independent Online

Outlook Who doesn't enjoy a bit of bank bashing right now: for the Financial Ombudsman Service, naming and shaming the financial institutions which have attracted the highest numbers of complaints must have been like shooting fish in a barrel. Surprise, surprise, the biggest banks, led by Lloyds and Barclays, came out worst.

Was this a useful exercise, however? The Ombudsman reckons naming companies should encourage them to clean up their acts, as well as helping consumers to make more informed choices about which financial services firms get their business.

There's probably some merit in the first argument, though the largest companies are always going to appear further up the rankings and thus attract more opprobrium, however the results are subsequently explained.

But as for the idea that consumers will now be able to make better choices about products and services, that's unlikely – the Ombudsman hasn't produced meaningful comparisons of either. You can't find out how complaints on credit cards compare, for example, or on any other specific product line.

Even worse, worries the Association of British Insurers, the Ombudsman's conclusions may be misleading. In practice, it rules on complaints in all sorts of ways, brokering compromises wherever possible. Its figures, however, shown none of these shades of grey.