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Col 12:  A better complaints system

Big improvements to unfair complaints about financial services

Bruce Cameron Column 12 A better complaints system 5Mar2024

By Bruce Cameron
Co-author of The Ultimate guide to Retirement in South Africa

People, offended by unfair treatment by financial services providers, will now be able to complain, for free, to two new complaints ombuds from March 1 this year.

New legislation, including the long-awaited Conduct of Financial Institutions Bill, and new rules for the National Financial Ombuds (NFO) scheme still need to be put in place to get the planned two ombud schemes operating properly.

The structural reform of the ombud system will reduce seven ombud schemes to two onbuds, namely:

  • A new, consolidated ombud scheme: National Financial Ombud (NFO). It will overlay six of the current seven schemes. They are: the Financial Advisory and Intermediary Services (FAIS) Ombud, the Credit Ombud, Ombudsman for Short-term Insurance, Ombudsman for Banking Services, Ombudsman for Long-term Insurance, and the Johannesburg Stock Exchange Ombud. The different bodies will continue to exist, but complaints will be through the NFO and new rules will be drawn up so all the underlying ombuds all act in the same way.

  • A Retirement Funds Ombud (RFO) – a renamed and reformed Pension Funds Adjudicator, with a board to underpin its independence and oversee its efficiency and effectiveness.


However, there are still many bodies left out that have a direct impact on individuals who use various other financial services. They include: the tax ombud, medical aids ombud, estate agents ombud, the law societies, accounting bodies; and some which should have an ombud, including unlisted companies, where many frauds take place.

The best example of unlisted companies being used extensively was the massive property syndication rip-off where thousands of people, mainly pensioners, who invested many R-billions and were deprived of their savings. In the end it was mainly only some of the product floggers who were only somewhat punished.

Problems Solved

The current problems involve complainants not knowing where to complain, if they are complaining to the right body or even how to complain.

This is overlaid by:

  • a complainant’s lack of financial astuteness;

  • the use of first language by complainants;

  • application processes for complaints, with some ombuds attempting to make complainants use online forms;

  • expect you to deal first with an internal ombuds of the financial services provider before complaining to the ombud. Complainants find it difficult to find and approach the internal ombuds, with no real rules set for the internal ombuds. Some are far better than others; and,

  • the combination of products. National Treasury says for example, take someone, who takes an unsecured loan that includes insurance, which could both long term risk assurance against dying and short-term for the loss of goods bought with the loan. The borrower losses his or her job and is not in a position to repay the loan. The borrower wants the insurance to pay. He could go to either of the two insurance ombuds; or, even the FAIS ombud if the insurance company is not a member of the two schemes. And what happens if false advice was given by the bank, an advisor or a non-bank lender?

A Bad History

The current system is still far better than it was 20 to 30 years ago where one ombudsman was suffering from advanced dementia and any complaints system was often used to reject rather than deal properly with the complaints.

Both the financial services industry and National Treasury, including the Financial Sector Conduct Authority (FSCA), have done a lot since the turn of the century to improve the complaints system.  Its big failure was not to create a single channel for complaints. This is now being addressed.

The New Approach

Initially the multitude of ombuds, most of whom had different rules, opposed the creation of a single office, but those now participating, all endorse the new structure.

The National Treasury this week published a policy position statement entitled A Simpler, Stronger Financial Sector Ombud System.

A World Bank diagnostic study identified potential overlaps, gaps, and inconsistencies in the overall South African financial ombud system and individual ombud schemes and recommended further reforms.

National Treasury says the new system will ‘help underpin consumer confidence in financial services and to enhance financial inclusion for vulnerable and disadvantaged customer’.

Both the NFO and RFO will fall under a modified Ombud Council (which already exists) whose members will be appointed by the Minister of Finance. The council will oversee the two new ombuds offices.

National Treasury says it would be too complex a transition for the NFO to absorb the work of the RFO at this stage. However, this is likely to happen in the medium term,

once the NFO has been up and running for a while.

It says the new system will result in improved consistency across the ombud system on visibility and accessibility, eligibility of complainants, processes, powers and enforceability of decisions, and improved coverage to significantly reduce jurisdictional gaps and overlaps.

How to Complain

Now if you feel you have been mistreated, complain. You can direct your complaints to:

  • Online:

  • By email:

  • By phone: 0860 800 900

  • By WhatsApp: 066 473 0157

  • New physical addresses:

  • Johannesburg: 110 Oxford Road, Houghton Estate, Rosebank, 2198.

  • Cape Town: Claremont Central Building, 6th Floor, 6 Vineyard Road, Claremont, 7700.

There is a lot more detail on this in the book, The Ultimate Guide to Retirement in South Africa. For more information on how to purchase the book go to Buy Now on the website


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