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Ombudsman is a longstanding, proven and highly regarded model of alternative dispute resolution, with a history going back more than 200 years.


The term 'ombudsman' commonly refers to both the scheme or office and the person who heads it up. An ombudsman scheme or office provides an independent, impartial, fair, timely, efficient and informal external dispute resolution process that is free to consumers.


This form of alternative dispute resolution is also commonly known as external dispute resolution (EDR), because it is independent of and external to the companies that are being complained about. It is wrong, and misleading to consumers, to use the name Ombudsman for a person or office within a financial services provider.


Ombudsmen resolve consumer complaints on the basis of fairness — through negotiation, mediation, conciliation, investigation and where necessary issuing a recommendation/decision.


As well as resolving complaints (and unlike courts) ombudsmen usually also deal with enquiries, and report on the lessons learned from the complaints they have handled — so that things can be improved for the future for all consumers.


This UK Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS) video takes an entertaining approach to ombudsman's Viking origins, here.


Financial services ombudsmen


Financial services ombudsmen resolve complaints brought by consumers (and, in some cases, small businesses) against banks, insurers and/or other financial services providers.


Their processes are designed to redress the imbalance of resources and expertise that is likely to exist between a consumer and a financial services provider, so that neither party needs a lawyer.


Financial services ombudsmen are a cost-effective and practical way to resolve complaints without having to go to court.


Find an INFO Network member in your country


Ombudsman associations


INFO Network is one of a number of associations of independent external ombudsmen around the world:


The Ombudsman Association (formerly the British & Irish Ombudsman Association)

Australian and New Zealand Ombudsman Association (ANZOA)

International Ombudsman Institute (IOI)
United States Ombudsman Association (USOA)

Forum of Canadian Ombudsman (FCO)

FIN-NET (European Economic Area)




INFO Network has consistently and actively sought to grow both the number and geographic reach of financial services ombudsman schemes, and to extend the many benefits of accessible, effective and independent external dispute resolution to more financial services consumers around the world.


Our latest contribution — a 'Guide to setting up a Financial Services Ombudsman Scheme' published in March 2018 — is now available for download.


This guide has been developed to inform the creation of new financial services ombudsman schemes and to build understanding about the ombudsman model of independent external dispute resolution. It builds on work our members did in 2014 to develop and adopt principles for financial services ombudsman schemes.


More information about INFO Network's work in this area






INFO Network publications


Guide to setting up a Financial Services Ombudsman Scheme
(published by INFO Network, March 2018)


Effective approaches to fundamental principles: Guide for financial services ombudsman schemes (published by the INFO Network, September 2014)


A selection of other research papers relevant to the functions of financial services ombudsman schemes


Models of Alternative Dispute Resolution

(an October 2014 research report looking at models of Alternative Dispute Resolution prepared by Queen Margaret University for the UK Legal Ombudsman


The use of informal resolution approaches by Ombudsmen in the UK and Ireland: A mapping study (October 2014)


From the Foundation for Law, Justice and Society:

The Impact and Legitimacy of Ombudsman and ADR Schemes in the UK (June 2014)

Harmonizing the ombudsman landscape (July 2014)


The future of ombudsman schemes: Drivers for change and strategic responses
(Queen Margaret University, Edinburgh, United Kingdom - July 2013)


Resolving disputes between consumers and financial businesses: Fundamentals for a financial ombudsman
(World Bank paper by David Thomas and Francis Frizon - January 2012)


Resolving disputes between consumers and financial businesses: Current arrangements in central and eastern Europe
(World Bank paper by David Thomas and Francis Frizon - January 2012)


Links to financial services ombudsman annual reports

The term 'ombudsman'
is neither male nor female. It is not related to gender.


The origin of the word
is found in Old Norse and the word umbuds man, meaning representative.

The first preserved use in Swedish is from 1552. It is also used in the other Scandinavian languages such as the Icelandic umboosmaour, the Norwegian ombudsman and the Danish ombudsmand.


The modern meaning of ombudsman arose from its use in Sweden with the Parliamentary ombudsman instituted in 1809, to safeguard the rights of citizens by establishing a supervisory agency independent of the executive branch.


It has since been adopted into English as well as other languages, with the plural form of 'ombudsmen' now widely used and accepted.





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