The Australian Royal Commission on Banking and Online Dispute Resolution

4442224686_d4d443f40d_mFrom the moment that Australia’s Governor General, Sir Peter Cosgrove, issued letters of patent creating the Royal Commission into Misconduct in the Banking, Superannuation and Financial Services Industry the task of managing your money would never be the same.  From the first submissions in February 2018 it has been clear that numerous customers of Australia’s financial institutions are unhappy and dissatisfied – and that’s probably an understatement.  By the end of the Royal Commission proposals will undoubtedly be made regarding changes to the industry.  How Australian financial institutions deal with customer disputes should feature prominently, and online dispute resolution must be at the top of the list.

Testimony at the Royal Commission describe the kinds of disputes encountered.  For example, the ABC reported that senior ANZ bank officials:

… told the banking royal commission that continued processing errors saw it charge customers the wrong amount of interest and fees on their home loans to the tune of at least $90 million.

Overstating the scope of unethical, and potentially illegal, behavior by financial institutions before the Royal Commission is hard to do.  Consider the fate of AMP chief executive Craig Meller, who,

… has quit the wealth management giant, becoming the first major casualty of the financial services royal commission.

Mr Meller says he is “personally devastated” after AMP admitted to charging clients for advice they never received and then lying to the corporate watchdog about it. (SBS, April 20, 2018)

These examples barely scratch the surface of revelations unearthed by the Royal Commission.

One thing for certain is that consideration should be given not only to strengthening legislation and legal protections, but also giving voice to consumers who feel they’ve been wronged.  An essential part of that includes providing consumers with the capacity to have their disputes addressed in a timely and efficient manner.  Given the apparent volume of disputes, however, it will be necessary to search for appropriate dispute resolution tools.  Online dispute resolution (ODR) will prove an important part of that reply.

ODR grows out of e-commerce, especially in high volume businesses like Square Trade, eBay, Amazon, and Airbnb.  It can simply be an adjunct to negotiation and mediation, or it can utilize algorithms to further guide customers with a business dispute.  While ODR should not be thought of as a panacea to all disputes it can help give speedy voice to consumer complaints and probably effectively and positively reduce the dispute load that would then need to be dealt with through more traditional means.

Customers of Australian financial institutions already have ample experience with online banking, not to mention every other kind of online enterprise.  Finding their first step in handling a dispute through an online facility would be neither novel nor off-putting.  Given the already deep experience in e-commerce with online dispute resolution, there can be no good reason not to consider using this proven solution to help rebuild consumer confidence with Australia’s financial institutions.


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