Frequently asked questions
Please note that the answers to the following “Frequently Asked Questions” may not always be fully applicable to a concrete case. We always reserve the right to assess a complaint individually. In addition, the Swiss Banking Ombudsman’s activities are based without restriction on his Rules of Procedure.
The Swiss Banking Ombudsman is responsible for financial businesses (banks and financial service providers) that conduct banking or financial services business with their clients and are members of the Swiss Bankers Association (SBA).
For financial businesses that are not members of the SBA, another Ombudsman office may be responsible. Financial businesses that offer their clients financial services in accordance with the Federal Act on Financial Services must be affiliated with an Ombudsman office recognised by the Federal Department of Finance (FDF). The FDF publishes the recognised Ombudsman offices on its website.
If the Banking Ombudsman is not responsible for your matter, you can ask your financial services provider directly, which Ombudsman office is in charge.
There are also many other Ombudsman offices in Switzerland. You can find a list at www.ombudsstellen.ch (available in German, French or Italian only).
If you are not sure whether the Swiss Banking Ombudsman or another Ombudsman is responsible for your matter, you can ask him – preferably by telephone.
The Ombudsman can only become involved if you have already tried to solve the problem yourself in direct contact with the financial business. Therefore, if you want the Ombudsman to initiate a mediation procedure, you must first address your complaint in writing to the Management or the Complaints Management Office of the financial business. Your letter of complaint must contain a concrete claim or request and a comprehensible justification, so that the financial business is given the opportunity to resolve the matter or to comment on it before the Ombudsman becomes involved. A copy of the correspondence with the financial business must be enclosed with the mediation request. This enables the Ombudsman, as a neutral mediator, to examine the complaint, taking into account the positions and arguments of both parties.
This procedure is also necessary if the financial business has already rejected your complaint verbally or if the matter is clear and unambiguous from your point of view.
The Ombudsman examines the request for mediation and respective documents submitted to him. If these are complete (see question 9) and if there are indications that the client has suffered a damage or other disadvantages as a result of a wrongdoing on the part of his or her financial business in connection with a banking or financial service, the Ombudsman approaches the financial business with the client’s request, unless mediation appears to have no chance of success for certain reasons from the outset.
If examination of the file reveals no evidence of wrongdoing on the part of the financial business or shows that the client has not suffered any concrete damage or disadvantage, no mediation procedure will be initiated. See also question 14.
In rare cases, a dispute may not be suitable for mediation. In accordance with his rules of procedure, the Ombudsman can refuse or discontinue the treatment of complaints which – for example, due to their complexity – are not suitable for an Ombudsman procedure, or where a solution through mediation appears to have no chances of success.
4. I do for the time being not wish to submit a mediation request. Can the Ombudsman first assess my request on the basis of the information I provide?
As a neutral intermediary, the Ombudsman can provide you with general information on issues relating to banking and financial services and give advice on how to proceed. However, it would be incompatible with his neutral role to carry out a unilateral case assessment outside of a mediation procedure. A neutral mediation would no longer be possible after such an approach. Nor does the Ombudsman give an opinion on disputed legal issues.
5. I firmly believe that the financial business has caused me a loss or disadvantage through a wrongdoing. However, the financial business denies this and I have no supporting documents or other evidence. Can the Ombudsman clarify the facts of the case so that I can obtain justice?
The aim of the Ombudsman procedure is to find amicable solutions between the parties to disputes through a mediation procedure. In contrast to court proceedings, the Ombudsman cannot carry out investigations or procedures for taking evidence in which facts that are presented differently could be clarified in a binding manner. If, during the mediation procedure, the parties maintain their statements about a significant event and no convergence of positions can be achieved, the dispute in question cannot be resolved in the Ombudsman procedure.
If no amicable solution can be found in such a situation, the client is free to go to the competent court.
The time taken to process a case generally depends on various factors, such as the complexity of the case, the timely and thorough response of financial business and clients to the Ombudsman’s letters, and the current workload of the Ombudsman office.
8. I hold a power of attorney for a banking relationship. Can I also submit a request for mediation?
Important: Do not submit original documents to the Ombudsman, only copies.
The Ombudsman normally requires the following documents:
- A letter to the Ombudsman setting out in a clear and comprehensible way the facts of the case, the problem and your points of complaint. The letter must also contain a substantiated description of your expectations and claim, as well as reasonable arguments and a comprehensible calculation of the damages claimed: What should be achieved with the financial business? On what basis? Why do you disagree with the statements of the financial business?
- A copy of your complaint letter to the Management or Complaints Management Office of the financial business. This letter must contain a specific claim, a comprehensible justification and a request for a written reply.
- A copy of the financial business’ reply to your complaint.
- Copies of other correspondence with the financial business in the complaint matter.
- Copies of important documents such as contractual documents, bank statements, etc.
- Your consent, that the Ombudsman may request information from the financial business. Normally, this consent is provided by means of the Authorization Form.
After an initial examination of the documents submitted, the Ombudsman may ask the client to submit further documents.
10. I no longer have the necessary documents (contracts, bank statements). Can the Banking Ombudsman obtain these documents for me from the financial business?
In principle, it is up to the client to gather the papers and to submit a complete file containing those documents that are necessary for the examination of his or her complaint. Only if you have unsuccessfully tried to obtain missing documents from the financial business concerned, the Ombudsman can request them from the financial business.
If the financial business does not respond to your written complaint, the first step you have to do is to send it a reminder. If your written request has not been answered within 4 weeks despite your reminder, you can send a copy of your letters to the Ombudsman. The Ombudsman will then ask the financial business to reply to the complaint directly to you.
If you contact the Ombudsman before the 4 weeks have expired, the Ombudsman will usually not yet take action. In this case, he will ask you to wait for the response of the financial business.
12. I am not myself in a position to formulate a complaint in writing. Can the Ombudsman do this for me?
The Ombudsman is a neutral mediator. Therefore, he cannot act as a lawyer for one of the parties and bring their concerns to the other party. A neutral mediation would no longer be possible after such an approach. Try to put the complaint to the financial business on paper in your own words or ask for support from your friends or family.
13. Can the Ombudsman review my documents and look for errors made by the financial business? I am not familiar with financial matters.
The Ombudsman is a neutral mediator. It would be incompatible with his neutral role to give legal advice to a client. Nor to work through documents with regard to possible errors and legal claims in view of a mediation procedure between the parties in this matter.
You must therefore have a concrete idea yourself of the mistakes you think the financial business has made and why it must meet your demand.
If you want the Ombudsman to initiate a mediation procedure, you must first address your complaint to the financial business yourself. Your letter of complaint must contain a concrete demand and a comprehensible justification so that the financial business has the opportunity to resolve the matter or to comment on it before the Ombudsman becomes involved.
No. The Ombudsman must be provided with a file showing that the client has made reasonable efforts to find a solution himself and from which the positions and arguments of both sides can be seen. The client must therefore ask for a written statement to his complaint from the Management or Complaints Management Office of the financial business. If the financial business nevertheless does not provide a written reply within a reasonable period of time, the client may contact the Ombudsman and provide him with a copy of his complaint to the financial business (see question 10).
15. Why do I first have to write to the Management or Complaints Management Office of the financial business? This does not make sense, the client adviser told me clearly that the financial business would not give in.
The Ombudsman cannot be involved in a dispute until the client has made reasonable efforts to find a solution with the bank. The client adviser may be prejudiced in a complaint. Therefore, it is often not up to the employee concerned to make a final decision on a claim submitted by one of his/her clients. The competent bodies within the bank must have been given the opportunity to become aware of the client’s complaint and concern and to resolve the matter directly with the client.
If you want the Ombudsman to analyse your request in view of a possible mediation procedure, it is therefore essential that you address your complaint in writing to the Management of the financial business or its Complaints Management Office, including a request for a written reply.
The client’s letter to the financial business must contain a specific request and a comprehensible justification, so that the financial business is given the opportunity to comment on it. You must have submitted to the financial business all the main arguments you list in your submission to the Ombudsman.
16. The situation is very urgent, and a damage or loss is imminent. I would like the Ombudsman to contact the financial business directly on my behalf without delay. Is this possible?
The Ombudsman is a neutral mediator. He is impartial and therefore cannot approach the financial business as your representative. Neutral mediation would no longer be possible after such an approach. In order to form an opinion on a complaint, he must always know the positions and arguments of both parties. It is therefore always necessary, even in urgent cases, that you document your complaint to the financial business. In doing so, you can point out the urgency.
However, you can contact the Ombudsman’s office by telephone to discuss the procedure. Depending on the situation, we can give you advice on the case and a non-binding assessment.
17. I am not satisfied with the quality of service provided by my client advisor. Can the Ombudsman help?
The Ombudsman intervenes if the documents submitted to him reveal indications that the financial business has caused a tangible loss or other disadvantage to the client through a wrongdoing. The aim of the mediation procedure is to reach a compensation for this damage or to eliminate the disadvantage by means of a mutually agreed solution. The Ombudsman has no influence on the quality of service and the friendliness of bank staff. Nor can the Ombudsman act to obtain an apology from the financial business or to discipline it. The client has the possibility to address such complaints or concerns directly to the management of the financial business.
The Ombudsman regularly receives complaints regarding charges and commissions. He assesses the question of whether they have been legitimately charged by the financial business in accordance with the principles set out in his article “Principles for assessing disputed bank charges” on pages 13 – 15 of the Annual Report 2016 (available only in German and French). An English summary is available.
However, the Ombudsman has no competence to deal with the general business and fee policy of a financial business. Mediation with regard to fee charges is therefore only possible if the Ombudsman’s examination reveals that the financial business imposes charges which cannot be considered (or not at this size) as validly agreed.
19. My case will soon be time-barred, or a time limit will expire. Can the Ombudsman interrupt the deadlines by initiating a procedure?
Enquiries to the Ombudsman do not interrupt or suspend the term of legal deadlines such as limitation periods, forfeiture periods, court or administrative time limits. It is the client’s responsibility to ensure that such periods are observed and, if necessary, interrupted or ensured.
20. I believe that the financial business should be penalised for its behaviour. Can the Ombudsman impose a fine or give instructions?
No. The Ombudsman is not an authority that can make binding judgements on the conduct of the financial business, nor one that has the power to impose penalties. His task is to try to resolve disputes by a mutual agreement between the parties through a mediation. He has no decision-making power (this is reserved for the courts). He can therefore propose and recommend solutions to the parties but cannot give binding instructions.
21. I had a lot of work to handle my complaint with the financial business and to prepare the submission to the Ombudsman. I would like compensation for this effort. I also want satisfaction for the emotional burden that the actions of the financial business caused me. Can I claim these points in the Ombudsman procedure, along with the actual damage?
In certain cases, the Ombudsman can understand that the dispute was very difficult, laborious and troublesome for one of the parties. However, since the aim of the Ombudsman procedure is to find amicable solutions in which each party compromises accordingly, both the client and the financial business generally bear their own expenses in connection with a dispute. This is also essential because clients should be able to submit their complaints to the Ombudsman without running the risk of being confronted with high claims from the financial business for the effort it has incurred. Compensation of the parties is therefore generally not discussed in the mediation procedure.
A dispute with a financial business can lead to great uncertainty and stress for the client. However, the aim of the mediation procedure is to find a solution to the matter itself. In principle, therefore, only the direct financial losses or other concrete disadvantages that a client claims can be the subject of mediation.
22. My bank has terminated the relationship with me. Can I get the Ombudsman to withdraw this termination?
The so-called freedom of contract is an essential part of our legal system. It means that each party is free to decide whether to enter into or maintain a contractual relationship with a particular person.
Unless the parties have agreed otherwise, banking business relationships may, by law, be terminated by either party at any time with immediate effect. Provided that any agreed terms have been complied with, there is no wrongdoing on the part of the Bank in such cases. However, each party must act in good faith and must therefore generally allow the contractual partner enough time to reorganise himself or herself otherwise. In principle, there is also no obligation to justify or explain the decision to terminate the relationship.
A bank’s decision whether or not to do business with a particular client is based on business policy considerations. The Ombudsman cannot question and influence such decisions due to his rules of procedure.
However, if you believe that the bank gave notice of termination due to an error or ignorance of the true facts, we recommend that you provide the bank’s management with a letter explaining the situation.
23. I am not satisfied with the services offered by the financial business. Can the Ombudsman get in touch with the financial business so that it will improve its products and processes in accordance with my expectations?
The Ombudsman deals with disputes in which a financial business has caused a damage or other disadvantage to a client through a wrongdoing. In his role as a neutral mediator, however, he cannot, as a matter of principle, give instructions to a financial business as to which services it should offer and in what form.
From the principle of economic and contractual freedom, it follows that any party offering a service on the market is free to design it at its own discretion. Therefore, if a financial business is not under a contractual or legal obligation to provide a service in a particular way, a respective complaint from a client cannot be the subject of an Ombudsman procedure.
Even if – in certain cases – the Ombudsman can understand the client’s criticism, it is up to the client himself to explain this to the management of the financial business in an objective manner and, if he is not successful, to look for another business whose services better meet the client’s needs.