External complaints bodies: rights and responsibilities

From: Financial Consumer Agency of Canada

What are external complaints bodies?

External complaints bodies (ECBs) are organizations that are independent from the banks and federal credit unions. They deal with customer complaints about banking services and products. All banks and federal credit unions must be a member of one of the ECBs.

There are two ECBs in Canada for banks and federal credit unions:

  • ADR Chambers Banking Ombuds Office (ADRBO)
  • Ombudsman for Banking Services and Investments (OBSI)

ECB’s provide a free and impartial review of complaints as part of banks’ complaint-handling procedures. The ECB can recommend a resolution for your complaint.

How do I file a complaint with an external complaints body?

Take these steps when filing a complaint:

Step 1: Start by filing your complaint at your bank or federal credit union

First, follow your bank or federal credit unions complaint-handling procedure. Keep in mind each financial institution will have its own procedure for complaints handling. There are usually 2 or 3 internal complaint-handling steps at each financial institution.

Learn more about how to file a complaint at a bank or federal credit union.

Step 2: Contact your bank’s ECB

You can ask the ECB to review your complaint against a bank or federal credit union:

  • if your complaint still can’t be resolved after going through the 3 internal steps, or
  • after 90 days have passed since you escalated it to the second step of the complaint-handling procedure at your bank or federal credit union

Keep in mind that each bank or federal credit union’s complaint-handling procedure will have different levels, and there will be different names for their levels.

Find specific information about the steps and levels of the complaint-handling procedure at your bank or federal credit union.  

What types of complaints are eligible for review by an ECB?

Complaints must fall within the ECB’s Terms of Reference. The Terms of Reference define how an ECB operates and the types of services it provides. You can usually find a copy of the Terms of Reference on ECB’s websites. Contact the ECB for information about its Terms of Reference.

​​​​What if I have filed a complaint with the wrong external complaints body?

Banks and federal credit unions can choose which ECB they want to belong to. Your bank must tell you which ECB to contact.

If you make a complaint with the wrong ECB, that ECB must give you the name and contact information of the correct ECB for your bank.

What if my bank or federal credit union changes its external complaints body after I have filed my complaint?​

​​A bank or federal credit union may change its ECB. If your bank or federal credit union has changed its ECB, the previous ECB must transfer existing complaints to your bank’s new ECB. This includes all information related to the complaints. The new ECB must let you know, without delay, once your file has been transferred to it.  

ECBs must follow Canadian privacy laws when transferring your file. For more information about federal privacy laws, contact the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada.

Can I file a complaint with an external complaints body if I have already taken legal action?

ECBs are not part of the court system. They will not usually investigate a complaint if it is the subject of a court action. Contact the ECB for more information. 

What are my rights when dealing with external complaints bodies?

ECBs must:

  • provide its services to you free of charge in either English or French
  • ensure that any person who works on your complaint, or acts on behalf of an ECB, is impartial and independent from both you and the bank or federal credit union
  • tell you how they deal with complaints
  • provide you, upon request, with any extra information (for example, the ECB’s Terms of Reference) you may need to understand the complaint procedure
  • tell you in writing, within 30 days after receiving your complaint, if all or part of your complaint is outside of the services they provide (the ECBs’ services are listed in its Terms of Reference)
  • make a final written recommendation, to you and the bank or federal credit union, within 120 days after receiving all the information needed to deal with the complaint

What is FCAC’s role?

Organizations must apply to become an ECB. FCAC oversees this procedure.

All organizations who wish to become ECBs must complete and submit their application to FCAC. The application must meet the requirements in the Application Guide for External Complaint Bodies and the regulations.

Once approved by the federal government, ECBs must continue to meet regulatory standards to maintain their approval status. FCAC also oversees this requirement.

FCAC cannot:

  • ​get involved in individual disputes
  • overturn the recommendation made by an external complaints body
  • provide compensation

You have rights when dealing with an ECB​.  If you feel that an ECB is not respecting your rights, contact the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada.

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