THE rapidly changing financial landscape and increasingly competitive business environment have seen the local market flooded with various financial products and services.
With new players waiting to snatch a slice of the growing financial pie amid the financial sector liberalisation, more sophisticated and need-based products are expected to make their way into the market.
Collaboration between Bank Negara and financial institutions
This may be good for consumers in terms of product choice and pricing. On hindsight, one can expect the number of complaints arising from the usage of financial products and services to also increase.
To cope with this, Bank Negara is collaborating with the financial institutions to ensure complaints are dealt with efficiently and there are avenues for customers to file complaints and seek redress.
Bank Negara director for corporate communications Abu Hassan Alshari Yahaya says that as part of its initiative to beef up the handling of complaints from financial institutions, the central bank has introduce the Guidelines on Complaints Handling. The guidelines, which was issued end of last year, among others, is to ensure financial institutions has the right infrastructure and procedures to improve financial services and accessibility to customers.
According to Abu Hassan, the central bank has embarked on some initiatives to allow customers access to file complaints and seek viable solutions.
These include the setting up of BNMLINK and BNMTELELINK as well as the establishment of agencies like the Financial Mediation Bureau (FMB) and Credit Counselling and Debt Management Agency (AKPK).
BNMLINK allows customers to walk in to seek information, clarification, enquiries and complains on issues relating to financial services whereas BNMTELELINK allows them to contact directly via telephone, fax, letter or email.
The FMB is an independent body established to help settle disputes between financial services providers and the public. AKPK was set up by the central bank to provide financial counselling and debt management to individuals to become self-reliant in their financial affairs.
To provide customers with the financial safety net and protect depositors against the loss of their deposits in the event of a bank failure, Malaysia Deposit Insurance Corp was established in 2005.
Resolution of complaints
The number of financial consumers seeking assistance from the central bank and its related agencies like AKPK and FMB has increased significantly by 65.4% from 177,223 in 2008 to 293,084 in 2009.
The number of consumers seeking BNM LINK’s assistance rose significantly by 90.2% to 253,801 in 2009 as compared to 133,439 in 2008.
Out of 253,801 cases, 8,919 cases required detailed investigation and facilitation due to the complexity of the issues while the rest were straight forward issues that were attended to in a timely manner.
Based on the central bank’s interventions, Abu Hassan says 7,493 cases (84%) were resolved during the reporting period and 50% (4,461 cases) were resolved in favour of consumers.
He adds that some of the main areas of engagement by the central bank with customers include complaints on products and services of financial institutions after failure in resolving them, disputes with regard to financial transactions and issue of claims, and those relating to financing.
He says plans are under way to set up special clinics and mobile buses in different states to facilitate consumer protection and complains.
Bank Negara, he adds, is also working closely with consumer groups like Federation of Malaysian Consumers Association and the Consumer Association of Penang to leverage on their road shows for the above purpose.
Other avenues for complains and queries can also be made via The Association of Banks in Malaysia (ABM) toll free service – ABMConnect.
Since the inception of this service on Dec 1, 2008, ABM’s success rate from last year was 99.3% in resolving consumer complains and attending enquiries in a timely manner.
All 14 member banks which form ABM’s Council have a dedicated customer services lines in handling the above matters.
By going into Bank Negara’s website and clicking on Bankinginfo and Insuranceinfo, customers can get a snap shot of relevant rates and other useful financial information, tools and tips.
Avenues for complaints
Malayan Banking Bhd (Maybank) head of consumer banking, senior executive vice-president, Lim Hong Tat says Maybank Group Customer Care (MGCC) is the central point of customer feedback and enquiry. It handles an average of over 350,000 calls a month.
“Customers can also visit any of the Maybank branches nearest to them for assistance or use our online feedback form via Maybank2u.com. We also have a Customer Feedback Management Division to provide a common framework across the bank to handle complaints and feedback on service, products and processes,’’ Lim adds.
Customers who phone MGCC will have their complaints/enquiries acknowledged within the same business day, he says, adding that resolution of a case will depend on the type of case and issue.
A normal case can be resolved within one to three working days but, if the bank requires more time to investigate, it will advise the customer on the duration required to resolve the matter, Lim notes.
Realising the importance of solving consumer complaints and treating it as a pillar for sustainable business, CIMB Bank Bhd executive director Sulaiman Mohd Tahir says the bank has put in motion several initiatives to handle this matter.
Currently, to provide convenience and access to the bank, customers can contact the call centres, Group Customer Care walk-in facility and bank branches, or provide feedback via CIMB website and CIMBClicks.
He adds that these avenues are just some platforms for customers to complain and seek clarification on different types of issues.
He says to ensure customer satisfaction, complaints received will be acknowledged by the personnel at the centre within 24 hours to ensure it will be resolved within a week.
Besides call centres operating 24 hours a day, he notes, the bank is aggressively looking to expand its team dedicated to improve and enhance customer service.
“We have 14 staff at our Group Customer Care and we plan to increase this to between 40 and 50 people in the near future. We are planning to link all the call centres into one platform to ensure a centralised contact point and provide a single face of the bank to the customer when solving their complaints or issues, he explains.
He says the bank will be investing in a new IT system to enable it to track every complaint. This new IT system will be operational by the third quarter of this year.
The bank receives between 40,000 and 50,000 complaints a year or 1% of the bank’s 5.4 million customer base.
Sulaiman also says the recent imposition of service tax on credit cards has caused the number of queries to surge but the bank via its different avenues has managed to resolve them.
HSBC Bank Malaysia Bhd general manager for personal financial services Lim Eng Seong says currently the HSBC Contact Center handles close to 300,000 cases per month and customers may seek information or channel queries via its call centre, branches, public website and internet banking channel.
The bank has no plans to expand its customer complaints avenues just yet.
Life Insurance Association of Malaysia (LIAM) says some of the common complaints received include poor service by agents, delay in settlement of claims and delay in receiving policy contract.
To improve the quality of insurance services to consumers, a lot of emphasis have been given in the training of insurers intermediaries. Education on consumer awareness has been carried out at the industry level with Bank Negara.
For instance, the Consumer Education Programme was launched in 2003 by the central bank and the insurance industry.
Its objectives was to improve the awareness and literacy levels of consumers, and to promote the development of a more effective and efficient insurance industry.
LIAM expect complaints to be further expedited when the Guidelines on Complaints Handling come into effect Feb1.
Under the Guidelines, among others, the insurer must ensure that a customer receives prompt acknowledgement within one or two days upon receipt of the complaint.
The customer must be informed of the decision not later than 14 days from the date of receipt of the complaint, the association adds.
LIAM says the settlement of a complaint under the Guidelines will also be subjected to certain factors like complexities of a case and whether any further investigation is required.
It has been working with the relevant authorities and insurers to make sure that the complaints lodged against life insurers are settled within the timeline given. “We are also engaging consumer bodies such as Fomca to look into areas where we could improve consumers’ understanding of life insurance policies. For instance, Fomca runs a National Consumer Complaints Centre whereby the public can seek help on queries and complaints.
“This has provided us with another avenue for our member companies to reach out to their policyholders,’’ LIAM adds.
Persatuan Insuran Am Malaysia (PIAM) says currently all insurers have a centralised platform to deal with customer service complaints.
Insurers must put in place well-documented inquiry and complaint handling procedures, designed to be accessible and responsive to their customers’ needs.
PIAM, as a trade association, also has a complaints action bureau which accepts and tries to resolve consumer complaints against its members.
Sulaiman says the main challenge is to prevent its recurrence and continues to educate the public on the type of products and services as well as to educate the bank’s front liners on how to handle customer complaints
Lim opines Maybank is constantly enhancing its capabilities to minimise drop calls – the inability to answer a call when a customer calls in.
The bank also has to maintain its service level standards by ensuring that the turnaround time to resolve a case under normal investigation remains within three working days, Lim notes.
LIAM views consumer education as the main challenge as there is need to raise awareness on the benefits of insurance as well as correct the misconceptions of insurance.