A securities regulator eager to prove its investor-protection bona fides could hardly ask for a better opportunity than the kerfuffle over the role of the Ombudsman for Banking Services and Investments. This controversy presents a chance to do something meaningful for investors with very little sweat.
A handful of large financial services firms have been complaining about their treatment at the hands of OBSI, a small organization charged with resolving complaints between clients and the industry. The firms win a solid majority of those cases; when they lose, the amounts they have to pay out are tiny. Yet, several firms have been complaining that the process isn’t fair and that the service isn’t competent.
Now, an independent review has concluded there is absolutely no basis for these claims. A review carried out by Australia-based Navigator Co. has found there’s no justification for all the industry griping about OBSI. Yet, it also concludes that regulatory intervention is required to overcome industry intransigence and ensure that OBSI can continue to function.
For securities regulators, this conclusion should be a no-brainer. It’s precisely the kind of task that suits the regulators’ dual mandate of ensuring fair and efficient capital markets. And, unlike a major rule-making initiative, it’s something that could be done relatively quickly.
The regulators wouldn’t have to get involved with the nitty-gritty of complaint handling, or get their hands dirty in working out investor restitution. All they need to do is give OBSI a solid regulatory framework in which to do that work. As the Navigator report suggests, Canadian regulators must bolster OBSI’s authority, beef up its oversight and develop an appeals process for its decisions.
Politically, there could hardly be a better time to stand up to bullying by large financial services institutions. Risk-averse regulators may fear the firms will go above their heads to their political masters, but that’s no reason not to try to resolve this issue. And, hopefully, the firms will come to their senses and decide this conflict can only tarnish them. Regulators should seize this opportunity to do some tangible good for investors.