ADRBO investigates complaints by banking customers about financial products and services provided by their bank in Canada. 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 facilitates a mutually-agreeable settlement between the consumer and the bank;
- ADRBO recommends that the bank does not need to take any further action; or
- ADRBO finds that the complaint is of a nature that ADRBO does not have the authority to investigate under its Terms of Reference (the complaint is “out of mandate”).
ADRBO as a regulated External Complaints Body has the authority to conduct investigations and make recommendations under the Bank Act and the Complaints (Banks, Authorized Foreign Banks and External Complaints Bodies) Regulations. ADRBO sets and revises its Terms of Reference in consultation with its regulator, the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada.
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/savings/joint accounts—such as withdrawals you did not make or that you otherwise dispute;
- Bank loan and mortgage issues—such as instances where you believe payments have been incorrectly applied/calculated or there have been misrepresentations made with regards to your loan/mortgage;
- Service issues surrounding investment-type products offered by banks, such as GICs, term deposits or principal-protected notes—such as delays in processing instructions or withdrawals that you believe led to a loss.
- 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 or service;
- 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 even though you had voiced a preference for a certain type of investment portfolio;
- 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 Services and Investments; and
- Where a bank chooses to no longer keep you as a customer, for whatever reason (referred to as “demarketing” or “terminating your account”).
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 complaint-handling process, unless these efforts are significantly more than what would seem reasonable.
Sometimes banks will offer customers a “goodwill gesture.” This is a payment that the bank offers voluntarily, meant to compensate customers for their bad experience or poor customer service, and there is a deadline by which 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. ADRBO also cannot make decisions with regards to a customer’s mental capacity to make their own financial decisions. If your complaint centers around issues of another person’s mental capacity, it may be better suited for a court to decide, where testimony is sworn and third-party experts can provide medical analyses.
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.
STEP-BY-STEP GUIDE TO THE ADRBO COMPLAINTS HANDLING PROCESS
- 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 (final decision letter or 56-day expiration letter) or your 56-day documentation (evidence that you submitted your complaint to the bank more than 56 days ago). If you have a final decision letter from the bank’s internal appeal office, all of these documents must be submitted to ADRBO within 180 days (6 months) of the bank’s internal appeal office’s final decision letter.
- ADRBO will respond within three business days and request any missing documents.
- 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.
- 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 within 30 days of receiving all of the information that is necessary in order to make the decision.
- The investigator will contact you for an interview.
- 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.
- The draft report is provided to the parties (you and the bank) one at a time, and each party is 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.
- The investigator reviews any comments received to determine if they highlight important problems, and has the right to edit the report accordingly.
- A final report, which includes ADRBO’s recommendation, is provided to the parties once both parties’ comment periods have finished. The final report will be provided within 120 days (4 months) of the investigator receiving all the necessary information to conduct their analysis.
More on ADRBO
In 2009, ADRBO was opened and began offering ombudsman services for Canada’s banks and banking customers. ADRBO was approved by the Minister of Finance (Canada) as an External Complaints Body in 2015 under the Complaints (Banks, Authorized Foreign Banks and External Complaints Bodies) Regulations. As an External Complaints Body, ADRBO is 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, a tribunal or a regulator. We are an “external complaints body,” which reviews certain decisions made by financial institutions. We investigate complaints from bank customers about a product or service offered or received by their bank in Canada and make decisions based on what we believe is fair—taking into account the law, regulatory policies, codes of conduct, and typical business in the financial services industry.
In addition to conducting investigations, sometimes we will try to help settle your dispute through mediation 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 have backgrounds and experience in 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 (you and the bank).
- impartial; and
We must act in a transparent, effective, timely, and cooperative manner. We do all our work with independence, fairness, and integrity.
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.
If ADRBO identifies any industry-wide or bank-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 in the past year;
- 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 the complainants’ favour.
ADRBO’s performance is also audited by an independent evaluator every five years, in accordance with the Complaints (Banks, Authorized Foreign Banks and External Complaints Bodies) Regulations in Canada. You can find these reports for past years on our website.
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. In other words, the limitation period 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 from you 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 review and 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. By signing our Consent and Confidentiality Agreement, you agree that all correspondence during the ADRBO process cannot be shared with third parties or used in any legal proceedings. However, 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 in any arguments against the bank for your case.