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How to complain

There is much to complain about, I mean it. There is bad advice, bad behaviour, bad advertising, and sometimes, outright fraud. No wonder you want to complain.

Monday, March 25th 2019, 9:08AM

by Russell Hutchinson

Russell Hutchinson

Apparently about 4,500 complaints have been made to the Financial Markets Authority (FMA) over the last few years by advisers. But the complaints aren’t getting much traction – more on that in another article – so it might be time to think about how and when to complain.

First things first – if you are about to complaint about another adviser, should you?

Are you just annoyed by them or is there really something substantial going on?

The best way to check this out is get the heart of your argument on paper, then get someone who is good at this sort of thing to review it. The best person is probably smart, pedantic, with experience in financial advice, and who has complained to each of the relevant authorities (see below) before.

The key thing is, you really need to have read the relevant law, or Code of practice. Merely feeling that ‘something is wrong with this’ will not get you very far. You may be right, but the best way to turn that feeling into action is to talk it over with someone first.

Assuming they agree that you should complain, congratulations: you are probably on to something.

Now think about where you will direct your complaint.

I suspect that a lot of complaints to the FMA are misdirected, and should have gone somewhere else. We tend to think of the FMA as ‘our’ regulator. A common misapprehension is that the FMA will pass on your complaint to the relevant regulator if it is not theirs. With a very serious issue, a referral to the Police does get made. 

However, issues that should, perhaps, get directed to the Advertising Standards Authority, may not get referred. Here are your options:

  • FMA – for complaints relating to financial advice, or financial markets conduct, or registration and authorisation
  • Police – fraud, theft with a document, etc
  • Your MP, or MBIE – something not covered by current law, or complaints about the regulator
  • Advertising Standards Authority – the single most neglected body: lots of complaints to the FMA should be directed here first
  • The Commerce Commission to complain about matters covered by the Fair Trading Act, the Consumer Guarantees Act, and the Credit Contracts and Consumer Finance Act

Next, think about your complaint issue with this as the focus: what potential or actual harm was done to ordinary consumers? Although it is fair to complain when harm has been done to you, or other advisers, or to product providers, there usually is an effect on customers, and that should be your focus. Code Standard One applies as much here as anywhere else in financial services.

After you have proven a case of consumer harm, and demonstrated how that breaches law or Code, you have a complaint worth sending.

On the other side of the coin, if you are complained about, first: don’t panic. It happens. It probably isn’t the first time, and probably won’t be the last.

Seek advice, and do that quickly, as it is always hard to review your own situation objectively. Try to be open and view the situation as a learning opportunity.

Tags: Opinion Russell Hutchinson

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