International Network of Financial Services Ombudsman Schemes

Why an ombudsman?

independent | accessible | effective | free | fair 
transparent | accountable | clear scope and powers

A proven model

Ombudsman is a longstanding, proven, highly regarded model of alternative dispute resolution, 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.

A gender neutral term

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

The origin of the word Ombudsman 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.

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

How-to guide

INFO Network's 'Guide to setting up a Financial Services Ombudsman Scheme' was published in March 2018.

This guide has been developed to inform the creation of new financial services ombudsman schemes and to build understanding of the value of the ombudsman model of independent external dispute resolution. It builds on work INFO Network Members did in 2014 to develop and adopt fundamentalprinciples for financial services Ombudsman schemes.

Ombudsman associations

INFO Network is one of a number of associations for 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)

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