Allegations of a breach of a Code of practice can be a useful learning tool even if a formal investigation finds no Code breach.

This was the outcome of a Code breach allegation recently investigated by the Customer Owned Banking Code Compliance Committee.

While a recent investigation into a Code breach allegation about privacy found that the Customer Owned Banking Code of Practice (the Code) had not been breached, the independent committee that monitors the Code identified a number of areas which might be of interest to Code subscribers seeking to achieve good practice.

In sharing the general details of this case, the Customer Owned Banking Code Compliance Committee (the Committee) invites subscribers to use this example to review their own practices and processes.

In this investigation, a customer alleged that after completing what she assumed was an anonymous survey, a staff member had inappropriately accessed the survey information, called her directly and verbally abused her about her survey feedback.  The customer referred the matter to the Australian Financial Complaints Authority (who subsequently closed the matter with mutual agreement by both parties) and also raised the matter of alleged Code breaches with the Committee.

The relevant Code obligations considered in the investigation were:

Key Promise 5 ‘We will deliver high customer service and standards’

We will treat your personal information as private and confidential.

Section 23 ‘Information privacy and security’

We will comply with the Privacy Act 1988 and the Australian Privacy Principles (APP), including with respect to credit report and the collection, storage, use and disclosure of your personal and financial information

In relation to the privacy issue, the Committee found that the customer had provided her name and contact details in completing the survey and had consented to the terms of the survey which allowed for the customer to be contacted to discuss her feedback.  The Committee also ascertained that the unit monitoring the survey had passed the customer’s details to the relevant branch manager, who made the call.  As a result, the Committee concluded that the customer owned banking institution had met Code obligations regarding privacy.

In relation to the promise of delivery of high customer service and standards, there was no call recording, and notes of the phone conversation and the customer’s account of the call were at odds with one another. The Committee therefore agreed that the available evidence was insufficient to support a finding of a Code breach of customer service standards.

The Committee’s mission includes not just monitoring compliance with the Code, but also offering guidance to subscribers and the wider industry about good industry practice. With this in mind, although the customer owned banking institution in question had not breached the Code, the Committee’s examination of the case led to a number of suggestions it urges Code subscribers to consider, as follows:

Use call recordings where possible
If call recordings are available in your office, use them for all phone responses to complaints and feedback. This valuable tool helps assess professionalism, achieve regulatory compliance, ensure high quality customer service, enhance employee training and productivity, and resolve customer complaints.

Be mindful of how survey information is used
When using identifiable responses in a survey to inform customer experiences, be clear and transparent about how you will use survey information, and the purpose for which you will follow up a customer. Consider likely consumer expectations and assumptions and assess how it might affect customers if they report a bad experience and then have to justify their negative feedback. Consider using a different employee to contact a customer to discuss their feedback than the customer’s usual business contact.

Internal dispute resolution processes
While the Committee recognises that this might not be possible in a small firm, where possible it is vital that the person responsible for internal dispute resolution (IDR) is impartial and in a separate area from the issue complained about. A customer will always be more reluctant to speak to the staff who are the subject of the complaint than to a person who can assess the situation objectively (maybe a superior, and not associated with the conduct that is the subject of the complaint). A good IDR process includes the use of a facilitator who is impartial in providing a fair solution and handles complaints in a sensitive and transparent manner.

Where individual investigations by the Committee highlight areas of practice relevant to all subscribers, the Committee will publish insights that it hopes will encourage subscribers to review their practices as they strive for good practice in Code compliance.