James Moore: Complaints data makes ugly reading

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The Independent Online

Outlook While much sound and fury continues to be vented over the issue of bankers' pay, the Financial Services Authority yesterday produced a timely reminder that it is not the only issue facing the sector. Customer complaints are running at a staggering level. Nearly one million are filed every six months across across all the banks operating in the UK, and small businesses also feel they are being given a raw deal.

In any other industry that would be a cause for a serious bout of soul-searching. Not in this one. The British Bankers Association's response was a study in complacency. Boiled down, it amounted to saying that while no one wants to get complaints, banks do a jolly good job really and the proportion ofreported problems is only 3.5 for every 1,000 banking products held.

Well thank goodness for that. It's all OK after all. Nearly a million unhappy customers every six months, with all the man-hours it takes to deal with them, the good will destroyed as a result and the fact that there are probably many more complaints out there that simply don't get made? Nothing to worry about guvnor.

The Financial Services Authority should pay heed to that response as it ponders its next move. The City watchdog has endured a fearful beating over the past year or two for its actions – or more to the point its lack of actions – leading up to the near collapse of the banking system. Here, though, it is kicking at an open goal. The only question that might be raised is why it has taken so long – and why, for that matter, it is taking so long to publish statistics on each individual bank. It is only right and proper for these things to be consulted on and the banks might have a point to make over the way the data is presented – bigger banks with bigger market shares will generate more complaints than smaller ones.

But that is just an excuse. They just don't like the idea of their dirty linen being washed in public. The watchdog needs to call the exercise to a close and tell them if they don't like the look of their figuresthey should do something about the underlying problem.

Any number of industry stalwarts, city grandees and even the odd politician have been queueing up recently to stress the importance of the banking industry to UK plc.What they're really saying is that without it we would be in a terrible mess. They're right too. But it's no wonder the public gets hot under the collar about the money being earned by the bonus boys in the City when their day-to-day experiences with the banks that pay those bonuses are so awful. The best way for the industry to take some of the heat off itself is for it to improve that experience. Sadly, it seemsthey prefer to spin the numbers to make them look better and claim there isn't a problem.