This story was updated on Feb. 20, 2020, to include comments from the ADR Chambers Banking Ombuds and the Ombudsman for Banking Services and Investments.

While most complaints at banks are resolved quickly, ones that must be escalated put an onus on clients to navigate a complex, slow and cumbersome system.

That finding comes from the results of two reviews released on Wednesday by the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada (FCAC), which oversees federally regulated banks and ombudsmen. The reviews follow a 2018 report that found retail banking culture is largely focused on selling, and rewards employees for doing so.

These two reviews assessed, respectively, the Big Six banks’ complaints procedures and the operations of external complaint bodies (the ADR Chambers Banking Ombuds and the Ombudsman for Banking Services and Investments).

The FCAC estimated that more than five million clients file at least one complaint with a bank every year, 76% of which get resolved at first point of contact.

However, 90% of consumers with complaints not resolved at first point of contact didn’t escalate their complaints. That suggests the escalation process isn’t “straightforward or easy,” the FCAC said in a release.

For example, the agency found that most consumers aren’t aware of external complaint bodies. (The resolution system for complaints uses a combination of internal bank procedures and external complaint bodies.)

The FCAC said it will address deficiencies in the policies, procedures and operations of banks and external complaint bodies through supervision.

For example, the agency will require banks to strengthen policies and procedures for the timely resolution of complaints and for informing consumers of their right to escalate complaints to an external complaint body when the bank is unable to resolve a complaint.

Associated guidance will be provided to the banks in the coming months, the FCAC said.

In addition, it noted that new Financial Consumer Protection Framework legislation, adopted by Parliament in 2018, will require banks to ensure their complaint procedures are satisfactory to the FCAC Commissioner.

In a release on Wednesday, the ADR Chambers Banking Ombuds (ADRBO) said it was committed to making the necessary changes.

“We are taking important steps to strengthen our operations, and we are putting in place an action plan to implement all of the FCAC’s proposed improvements, some of which is already underway,” said Britt Warlop, ombudsman at ADRBO, in the release.

Also in a release on Wednesday, the Ombudsman for Banking Services and Investments (OBSI) said it would review the FCAC’s recommendations closely and develop an action plan.

OBSI also noted that only two of the Big Six banks — BMO and CIBC — offer its services to clients. The other four use ADRBO.

“[T]here should be a single ombudsman for retail bank consumers, as there is for retail investors in Canada,” said Sarah Bradley, OBSI’s ombudsman and CEO, in the release.

In addition to resolving client disputes with BMO and CIBC, OBSI resolves client disputes with investment firms that participate in its service.