David Thomas - Dartmouth
My Job - David Thomas, UK Financial Ombudsman
What is the job of the Financial Ombudsman?
The Financial Ombudsman Service was set up as an alternative service to the Courts for people who might have a complaint against a bank, insurance company or any other financial business. Rather than going to Court which can be a complicated process involving lawyers and potentially a lot of expense, you can go instead to the Ombudsman Service which is quicker and more informal than the Courts so that you do not need a lawyer to help you.
The reason that it is more informal is that, unlike in the Courts where the judge is a referee and each side has to come along and put the evidence before the judge, our Service actually investigates the cases brought to us.
So that the fact that on the one side you have a business that understands all about banking/insurance and on the other a customer who probably does not know everything, really does not matter because the FOS knows all about it and will investigate actively….and most importantly for the consumer, it is a free service.
How did you become a Financial Ombudsman and what does it involve?
I qualified as a lawyer in England and Wales in 1969 and as a lawyer in Ireland in 1991. I led a firm of lawyers with offices in Liverpool and London. My job with the FOS has evolved over the years. In 1997 I became the Banking Ombudsman.
This was when there was a separate Ombudsman for each sector – banking, insurance, building societies and so on. I was running an office of about 50 people at that time. As part of the reorganisation of financial regulation that created the Financial Service Authority as the combined regulator the Government also created the FOS as a unified Ombudsman Service right across financial services effectively amalgamating all of the existing ombudsman which involved 300 people.
At that stage I became Principal Ombudsman responsible for banking and mortgages and later also took over responsibility for pensions and split-capital investment trusts. After some years as the FOS grew, we reconstructed the way in which we were organised.
In 2005 I became Corporate Director and Principal Ombudsman responsible for corporate policy, legislation/rules under which we operate, our relationship with the Government, European Commission, the financial regulators, Office of Fair Trading and the Ministry of Justice. I was also the interim Chief Ombudsman from November 2009 to March 2010 whilst a new incumbent was appointed.
The FOS has grown to a staff of 1,500 so we are a much larger organisation because of the increase in cases we deal with. Ten years ago it was 30,000 cases per year and now it is 170,000.
Your expertise is shared with other countries….
Yes. We believe that we are the largest Financial Ombudsman Service in the world, perhaps the largest Ombudsman Service for any sector so anyone thinking of establishing such a service do come to us to see what we do.
As a result, we are often asked to visit other countries (at their expense I hasten to add!) to explain what we do. I’ve been to Armenia, Belgium, Brazil, Cyprus, Czech Republic, France, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Kazakhstan, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Portugal, Slovenia, Taiwan, Ukraine and Uzbekistan.
What main advice would you give to someone with a financial complaint?
Inevitably, financial organisations that deal with millions of transactions will make mistakes from time to time. There is a very clear procedure which says that, if there is a problem and you point it out to them, they have to deal with it promptly and in any event within 8 weeks.
They must give you a formal written response to your complaint saying whether they agree with it or not, offering you compensation if appropriate and informing you of your right to appeal if you disagree with the Ombudsman’s decision so long as you do so within six months. So if you have a problem, register a formal complaint as soon as possible to get our ‘wheels in motion’.
How did you come to live ‘By the Dart’?
My partner Jane and I were living in North Lancashire. Jane is a great sailor and long distance walker. She got to know this area well having done the South West Coastal Path. We made a decision to investigate property in the West Country as the commute to London was about the same as from Lancashire.
We ended up selling our home and buying a yacht which Jane sailed around the coast searching for our new home. For about two years, I would get off the train at stations all over the West Country late on a Friday night, and still in my suit with briefcase and laptop in hand, I’d be rowing out in a dinghy to the yacht moored in a river somewhere in Devon or Cornwall. We eventually found our house in East Cornworthy which we loved immediately. The decision to buy was definitely one of the best we have ever made!
First Published March 2011 By The Dart