How the ADRBO Process Works

Our Mandate

ADRBO investigates complaints by banking customers about financial services provided by their bank. The four most common outcomes to complaints received by ADRBO are:

  • ADRBO recommends that the bank provide financial compensation to the customer;
  • ADRBO recommends that the bank take some other action to account for the customer’s loss;
  • ADRBO recommends that the bank does not need to take any further action; and
  • ADRBO finds that the complaint is of a nature that ADRBO does not have the authority to investigate.

What can ADRBO investigate?

The Terms of Reference is the document that outlines what we may and may not investigate.

Issues we commonly investigate include:

  • Debit/credit card issues – for example, if you notice that there are charges on your credit card for purchases you did not make;
  • Transactions relating to chequing/saving/joint accounts – such as withdrawals you did not make;
  • Bank loan and mortgage issues – such as a case where you find out that you have to pay a big prepayment penalty even though the bank representative led you to believe that you had signed up for a different kind of mortgage with a lesser penalty;
  • Issues surrounding investment-type products offered by banks, such as GICs, term deposits or principal protected notes.
  • Fraud – for example, if someone gives you a cheque to deposit and asks you to wire transfer some money back at the same time, and the cheque later bounces and the bank is holding you responsible for all the money.

Matters that are not within our mandate to investigate include:

  • The bank’s interest rate and risk-management policies – for example, if your complaint is that the bank should lower its interest rate on a loan. ADRBO cannot tell the banks to raise or lower their interest rates;
  • The bank’s prices/fees – for example, if your complaint is that your bank should be charging less for a product;
  • The bank’s commercial judgment (unless biased or unfair) – such as a case where you believe that the bank should have approved you for a loan;
  • Investment advice – for example, if a bank advisor advised you to invest in something that was high risk (without telling you it was high risk) even though you told the advisor that you did not want to invest anything that had a lot of risk;
  • Class actions – where the loss you are claiming also appears to have been suffered by other customers resulting from the same bank action/inaction and could be subject to a class action;
  • Where there is a more appropriate place for the complaint to be dealt with, such as the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada, the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal, a court, the General Insurance OmbudService, the OmbudService for Life & Health Insurance, or the Ombudsman for Banking Service and Investment; and
  • Where a bank chooses to no longer keep you as a customer, for whatever reason.

Non-Financial Losses

After investigating a complaint, ADRBO may make a recommendation for compensation if it is of the opinion that the customer has suffered loss, damage or harm because of an act or omission by the bank. These recommendations are meant to put the customer back in the position they would have been in if there had been no mistake made by the bank.

In exceptional circumstances, ADRBO may consider it fair to make a recommendation to compensate for harm that does not involve a direct financial loss. This could include situations where the bank mistake caused significant distress or inconvenience, loss of reputation, or damage to credit ratings. ADRBO may consider the following factors in coming to its decision:

  • Was the harm prolonged and significant?
  • Was the harm unnecessary, or the process overly difficult?
  • Did the customer contribute to the harm?

ADRBO will not recommend compensation for customers for distress or inconvenience caused by making normal efforts necessary to correct a bank’s mistake or to engage the bank’s complaints handling process, unless these efforts are significantly more than what would seem reasonable.

Sometimes banks will offer customers a “goodwill gesture”. This is a small payment the bank offers voluntarily, meant to compensate customers for their bad experience, and there is a period of time to accept it. ADRBO will not recommend changes to the amount of a goodwill gesture; but if a goodwill gesture was previously offered and expired, ADRBO may sometimes recommend that the bank offer it again.

ADRBO will not recommend compensation for customers for health issues, including claims for stress, pain, or suffering. If customers believe that they have a significant health claim resulting from a bank’s mistake, they should seek legal advice.

Recommendations for non-financial loss do not always mean a financial award. ADRBO may recommend that banks compensate clients in non-monetary ways, such as a letter of apology, restoring a product or service, correcting a credit bureau record, explanatory letters to a client’s creditors, or other steps to correct the bank’s mistake.

ADRBO Process

Before bringing your complaint to ADRBO, you must first bring your complaint to your bank and go through the bank’s complaint process. If you are not satisfied with how the bank has dealt with your complaint, then you can complain to ADRBO.

ADRBO Requirements

In order to consider your complaint, you must send us the following documents

  • A filled out and signed Complaint Submission Form (CSF);
  • A filled out and signed Consent and Confidentiality Agreement (CCA); and
  • The final written response from the bank ombudsman or a letter from the bank telling you that 90 days have passed since the complaint was escalated to the second level of the bank’s complaint handling process and letting you know that you have the option of bringing your complaint to us instead of waiting for the bank’s decision.

These documents must be sent to us within 180 days (6 months) from the date on the final written response or the 90-day letter.

Our staff will help you understand our services and procedures, and will provide all documents necessary to start your complaint.

ADRBO Review

After receiving the documents mentioned above, our team reviews your complaint in order to learn what the complaint is about, what your position is and what the bank’s position is.

The reason for the review is to decide if your complaint is within our mandate to investigate. If we decide that your case is outside of our mandate, we will let you know within 30 days from the day we have all the information necessary to make that decision, and we will explain the reasons for the decision. If it is within our mandate to investigate your complaint, your file will be assigned to an investigator and you will be notified that your complaint will be investigated.

ADRBO Investigation

All ADRBO investigations must meet standards of fairness, independence, and competence. This means:

  • both parties will have a full opportunity to present their case and evidence;
  • the investigator has no vested interest in the outcome; and
  • all relevant rules will be applied to the facts rationally and justifiably, taking everything into account that ought to be.

The investigator will look at all of your documents and the bank’s documents. The investigator will also interview you and bank personnel. You will receive ADRBO’s written decision, including reasons for the decision, within 120 days (4 months) from when the investigator gets all the necessary information.

Final Report

The final report you receive will include ADRBO’s recommendation. Banks are not forced to follow our recommendations, but we have never had a bank refuse to follow one. If a bank does ever decide to refuse to follow a recommendation, we must publicly describe it on our website (but we would remove all information identifying you so no one would know you were involved). The decision is final, and cannot be appealed back to ADRBO.


  1. Submit a completed and signed Complaint Submission Form and Consent and Confidentiality Agreement to ADRBO (by either mail, fax, or email), together with the response you received from the bank. All of these documents must be submitted to ADRBO within 180 days (6 months) of the bank ombudsman’s response or 90-day letter.
  2. ADRBO will respond within three business days and request any missing documents.
  3. Once everything has been submitted, ADRBO will decide if it can investigate the complaint. This decision will be communicated to you within 30 days of receiving all of the information that is necessary in order to make the decision. Sometimes further information is required and will be requested. If ADRBO is unable to investigate your complaint, you will receive a letter explaining why, and your file will be closed.
  4. If it is within ADRBO’s mandate to investigate your complaint, it will be assigned to an investigator and you will be notified of the decision to investigate.
  5. The investigator will contact you for an interview.
  6. Investigators have approximately 60 days to conduct their investigations and submit a draft report internally within ADRBO. Each report is reviewed and approved by two senior members of ADRBO, which ensures consistency and quality in our work.
  7. The draft report is provided to the parties one at a time, and they are each given two weeks to review it and provide comments. This ensures there is no important missing information. The party that ADRBO finds against receives the report first.
  8. The investigator reviews any comments received to determine if they highlight important problems, and has the right to edit it accordingly.
  9. A final report, which includes ADRBO’s recommendation, is provided to the parties. This must be completed within 120 days (4 months) of the investigator receiving all the necessary information.


Process Chart

More on ADRBO

ADRBO History

ADRBO opened in 2008. Since 2014, we have been regulated by the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada (“FCAC”). ADRBO is a private company, independent from banks. We charge our member banks fees based on their size and number of complaints.

What We Do

ADRBO is not a court of law or a regulator. We are an “external complaints body”, which reviews certain decisions made by financial institutions. We investigate complaints and make decisions based on what we believe is fair – taking into account the law, regulatory policies, codes of conduct, and typical financial services business.

In addition to conducting investigations, sometimes we will try to help settle your dispute through a negotiation between you and the bank.

We will not investigate, or will stop investigating, if you engage in harassing behaviour or are rude or overly aggressive – including making threats against ADRBO and/or its staff. If you choose to act in that way, you will be given a warning and asked to stop. If you do not stop, your file may be closed. The same rules also apply to banks.

ADRBO staff and investigators are drawn from disciplines such as law, financial services, dispute resolution, and regulatory compliance. Everyone at ADRBO who is involved in a complaint is independent from the parties in the complaint.

ADRBO Principles


  • accessible;
  • accountable;
  • impartial; and
  • independent.

We must act in a transparent, effective, timely, and cooperative manner. We do all our work with independence, fairness, and integrity.

Our Rules

Our ADRBO Terms of Reference are the rules we follow. They describe our mandate, the duties of management, and ADRBO’s processes.

Becoming a Member Bank

Any bank can become a Member Bank with ADRBO, but must comply with ADRBO’s Terms of Reference. ADRBO charges Member Banks annual administrative fees, and also charges them hourly rates for investigations. ADRBO’s services are free of charge to complainants.


ADRBO is governed by a Board of Directors (the “Board”), which oversees ADRBO’s business and performance. The Board approves all of ADRBO’s policies and procedures, and ensures that they are followed by management. The Board does not consider specific cases.

Systemic Issues

If ADRBO identifies any industry-wide or firm-wide issues, it must bring them to the FCAC’s attention.

ADRBO Annual Report

ADRBO publishes an annual report detailing:

  • the number of complaints it received;
  • how many of those were within ADRBO’s mandate;
  • how many investigations were completed;
  • the average length of time to complete those investigations; and
  • how many of them were decided in complainants’ favour.

ADRBO’s performance is also be audited by an independent evaluator every five years. You can find these reports for past years on our website.

Limitation Periods

Every province has a “limitation period” – which means that if you want to take legal action against your bank, it must be done within a certain period of time. Two years is a common limitation period.

ADRBO has “tolling” agreements with banks that “freeze” the limitation periods while you are taking part in the ADRBO process. So that clock does not run during the time we are dealing with your complaint., the “freeze” begins when ADRBO receives a signed Consent and Confidentiality Agreement and ends 30 days after ADRBO sends the final report or closes your file for any other reason.

Privacy and Confidentiality

We only gather personal information about you with your consent, and only use it for the purpose intended, which is to conduct an investigation into your complaint. You may refer to our Privacy Statement for a more detailed explanation.

The ADRBO process is confidential from outside parties. All correspondence during the ADRBO process cannot be shared with third parties or used in any legal proceedings. But documents you give us may be referred to in our final report. If there is material you do not wish to be shared, let us know – but ADRBO would not be able to use that information against the bank.