30 April 2020
How to issue a complaint against your Canadian bank during COVID-19
Many Canadians are facing financial uncertainty as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, which can lead to issues arising between banks and their customers. Many banks have taken measures to accommodate individuals and businesses in these challenging times by creating special programs, some of which are outlined here.
Despite measures being taken by banks, individuals and businesses may still receive unwelcome news including penalties, charges, or account closures. If you believe your bank may be acting unfairly, there is a federally regulated complaints-handling process that allows consumers to initiate, and if needed escalate, complaints to an independent third-party. While the escalation process will vary from bank to bank, the following basic steps remain the same.
Start by communicating your concerns directly to your bank
It is best to start the complaint process by contacting a representative of your bank, either at your branch or through your bank’s call centre or website, to see if they can resolve your issue. In advance of this call be sure to write down your problem in detail, and gather all supporting documentation so that you can clearly communicate your issue to the bank’s representative. It may take time to get ahold of a representative and you don’t want to forget to include any important details.
If you are not happy with the resolution the representative offers, ask them to provide a written response via email or letter mail setting out the details of your complaint, the bank’s proposed resolution, and an explanation for the proposed resolution.
Escalate to your bank’s customer complaints department
The next step is to escalate your complaint to your bank’s complaint-handling department. You may ask the representative you have been dealing with how to contact this department. If, after talking to the complaint handling department, you are still not satisfied with the resolution proposed by your bank, again ask for a detailed written response from the complaint-handling department.
If you have received an unsatisfactory offer for a resolution to your matter within 90 days, you may go to the next step outlined below and contact your bank’s Ombuds office. However, if it has been ninety days or more since you initially contacted the complaint-handling department, you should proceed directly to an external complaints body.
A good time to seek legal guidance
If you are at the stage of either contacting the Ombuds office or an external complaints body, you may wish at this time to contact a knowledgeable lawyer to ensure that you know your legal rights, and how to protect them.
Contact your bank’s Ombuds Office
Federal guidelines dictate that banks have an independent senior officer responsible for consumer complaints, separate from the rest of the bank’s complaint-handling procedures. Most banks have an Ombudsperson or Ombuds Office that fulfills this role.
The Ombuds Office must provide you with its final decision/offer, including appropriate details and explanations regarding how the final decision was reached. Your bank should also provide information about their external complaints body, in case the Ombuds office is not able to satisfactorily resolve your issue.
Escalate to your bank’s external complaints body
If you are not satisfied with the Ombuds Office’s final decision/offer, the final step is to contact your bank’s external complaints body (ECB). ECBs are independent entities that are required by federal regulation to provide free and impartial reviews of complaints. The ECB must make a final written recommendation to you and the bank within 120 days after receiving all the information needed to deal with the complaint.
If you have any questions or require guidance regarding a complaint against your bank, we encourage you to contact our Litigation & Dispute Resolution Group.
Learn more at our COVID-19 Resource Centre.
Ryan Lee is the Managing Partner at Watson Goepel LLP and is also the leader of the Litigation & Dispute Resolution Group. Thomas Hanson is an Articling Student.