ASIC proposes that firms accept social media as legitimate channel for customer complaints

Maria Nikolova

The regulator considers this to be appropriate, given that long-established patterns in how consumers complain to organisations are changing significantly.

The Australian Securities & Investments Commission (ASIC) has earlier today published a consultation paper that is set to change the way firms handle complaints filed by their clients. The proposed changes will affect the internal dispute resolution (IDR) schemes that firms regulated by ASIC apply in handling customer complaints. The list of proposals includes a couple of rather interesting changes to IDR schemes, such as accepting customer complaints submitted via social media, as well as reduction of the time for reviewing (and replying to) a complaint.

ASIC considers that as consumers move beyond telephone, email and traditional written mediums, financial firms should:

  • (a) adopt a proactive approach to identifying complaints made on their social media platform(s); and
  • (b) have processes in place (including appropriate links between media and complaints departments) to deal with these matters through their IDR process.

At a minimum, the regulator expects that complaints made on a financial firm’s own social media platform(s) will be dealt with through the firm’s IDR process when the consumer is both identifiable and contactable.

ASIC’s own research into consumer experiences with financial services IDR processes and consumer research conducted by the Central Bank of Ireland indicate that social media is being used by consumers as a complaints channel to financial firms. Furthermore, more general consumer research in the Australian, UK and US markets strongly indicates that social media is being used by many consumers as a preferred channel for customer service interactions with organisations.

Put briefly, the proposal establishes social media as a legitimate channel for making complaints.

Another proposed change to pay attention to concerns the IDR timeframes – that is, the time to respond to a complaint.

ASIC proposes to:

  • (a) reduce the maximum IDR timeframe for superannuation complaints and complaints about trustees providing traditional services from 90 days to 45 days;
  • (b) reduce the maximum IDR timeframe for all other complaints (excluding credit complaints involving hardship notices and/or requests to postpone enforcement proceedings and default notices where the maximum timeframe is generally 21 days) from 45 days to 30 days; and
  • (c) introduce a requirement that financial firms can issue IDR delay notifications in exceptional circumstances only.

Other proposals include setting clear standards about what should be in written reasons for decisions, as well as strengthening the requirement that firms take a systemic focus to complaints handling.

ASIC seeks public feedback on the consultation documents by August 9, 2019 and aims to release new IDR standards by end 2019. 

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