Brussels, 1st February 2001

PRESS RELEASE

Financial services: Commission launches out-of-court Complaints Network to improve consumer confidence

The European Commission has just launched an out-of-court complaints network for financial services to help businesses and consumers resolve disputes in the Internal Market fast and efficiently by avoiding, where possible, lengthy and expensive legal action. This network, called FIN-NET, has been designed particularly to facilitate the out-of-court resolution of consumer disputes when the service provider is established in an EU Member State other than that where the consumer lives. The network brings together more than 35 different national schemes that either cover financial services in particular (e.g. banking and insurance ombudsmen schemes) or handle consumer disputes in general (e.g. consumer complaint boards). Both on- and off-line services are covered. The difficulty of obtaining out-of-court redress is a barrier to the development of cross-border services, particularly in the financial sector where it risks undermining the growth of electronic commerce. The European Commission in its Financial Services Action Plan (see IP/00/1269) and its recent Communication on a new strategy for the services sector (see IP/01/31) stressed that improved consumer confidence in non-costly, simple, effective, alternatives to legal action is crucial to the creation of an integrated internal market in financial services -a key Lisbon Summit objective.

Internal Market Commissioner Frits Bolkestein said: "Markets thrive on confidence. Retail consumers want reassurance that cross-border shopping will be problem free. Fast, efficient and cheap methods of resolving disputes are essential to encouraging the development of a genuine pan-European market in retail financial services."

There is a growing demand for alternative dispute resolution mechanisms (ADRs) that do not involve formal legal action given the range and sophistication of services available to European consumers and the development of cross-border trade. Both supply and demand for such services are likely to increase with the introduction of euro. The emphasis on developing efficient ADR systems reflects a political demand from Member States and the desire on the part of policy-makers to ensure that trading and co-operation is made as easy cross-border as it is within national borders. The time-scale, technical complexity, linguistic and cultural variance of legal procedures as well as their expense can deter consumers from taking court action. Moreover, the perception that there are no other means of redress can be a major disincentive to cross-border investment.

At the national level, a wide range of ADR procedures already exist for financial services. Though these all operate slightly differently, they have the same essential aim: to provide complainants with the possibility of independent third party dispute resolution cheaply or at no cost once they have exhausted internal customer service redress procedures within the financial institutions concerned.

ADR schemes do not replace the possibility of court action, but offer an alternative to it. A consumer not satisfied with the decision taken by the ADR body can still, in most procedures, bring his case to court.

The wide existence of national schemes has enabled the establishment of the first EU ADR network in the field of financial services. FIN-NET brings the schemes together on the basis of a voluntary Memorandum of Understanding. It offers consumers a framework for easy access to out-of-court redress, even when the supplier does not belong to the complaint scheme that operates in the consumer's country of residence. In such cases, the complainant, through his or her national ADR scheme, is put in touch with the ADR system in the supplier's country of operation. Such cross-border co-operation has the added advantage of increasing the flow of information between the redress bodies; thus enabling them to deal with cross-border complaints as quickly and efficiently as possible. More information about the FIN-NET and the participating schemes is available on the Commission's Europa internet site: http://europa.eu.int/comm/internal_market

FIN-NET complements the EEJ-NET (European Extra-Judicial Network) which establishes a more general network of ADRs notified to the Commission by Member States as applying core principles (contained in Commmision Recommendation 98/257/EC) to guarantee their fairness and effectiveness. The EEJ-Net, launched by the Commission in May 2000 (see IP/00/445), provides a communication and support structure made up of national contact points (or 'Clearing Houses') established by each Member State.

To help consumers and businesses deal with problems that may arise in exercising their Single Market rights, the Commission has also published a useful guide "Enforcing your rights in the Single European Market (see IP/00/534). The guide and the relevant national Factsheets give comprehensive information on how to seek redress, including details of national out-of-court settlement systems. This guide is available though the "Dialogue with Citizens" website at http://europa.eu.int/citizens or by calling the Europe Direct freephone numbers in each Member State:

Austria:    0800 29 68 11  Belgium:    0800 920 39 (F)        0800 920 38 (N)  Denmark:   80 01 02 01  Finland:    0800 11 31 91  France:    0800 90 97 00  Germany:   0800 186 0400  Greece:    00800 321 2254  Ireland:    1 800 55 31 88  Italy:     800 876 166  Luxembourg:  0800 25 50  Netherlands:  0800 09 05 1950  Portugal:   8002 09 5 50  Spain:    900 983 198  Sweden:    020 79 49 49  United Kingdom: 0800 581 591

Parties to the Memorandum of Understanding on a Cross-Border Out-of-Court Complaints Network for Financial Services in the European Economic Area

Médiateur des banques et sociétés de bourse  Médiateur auprès de la Poste (FR)

Association Belge des Banques (ABB)   Chaussée d'Anvers 59

Rue Ravenstein, 36, bte 7    B 1000 BRUXELLES

B 1000 BRUXELLES

Ombudsman van de banken     Dienst Ombudsman De Post (NL+DE)

en beursvennootschappen    WTC Tour II

Belgische Verening van Banken (BVB)   Antwerpsesteenweg 59

Ravensteinstraat 36 bus 7    B 1000 BRUSSEL

B 1000 BRUSSEL

Ombudsman de l'Union Professionnelle   

des Entreprises d'Assurance (UPEA)

Maison de l'Assurance  

Square de Meeûs, 29

B - 1000 BRUXELLES

Realkreditankenævnet

Zieglers Gård   

Nybrogade 12, Parterre

DK-1203 COPENHAGEN K

Der Ombudsmann der privaten Banken

Bundesverband deutscher Banken

Burgstrasse 28

D 10178 BERLIN

Der Ombudsmann der öffentlichen Banken   Deutsche Bundesbank

Bundesverband Öffentlicher Banken   Schlichtungsstelle

Deutschlands e.V.       Postfach 10 06 02

Lennestrasse 17         D 60006 FRANKFURT am MAIN

D 10785 BERLIN

Gesamtverband der Deutschen   

Versicherungswirtschaft (GDV),

In expectation of the establishment of

"Versicherungsombudsmann"

Friedrichstrase 191  

D 10117 BERLIN

Hellenic Banking Ombudsman    Ministry of Development and

12-14 Karagiorgi Servias Street     Commerce Secretariat General

           Caningos Square

            GR 10181 ATHENS

Servicio Jurídico        Comisión Nacional del Mercado

Banco de España       de Valores (CNMV)

Alcalá, 50           Paseo de la Castellana, 19

E - 28014 MADRID       E - 28046 MADRID

                

Médiateur         Médiateur de la C.O.B.

Fédération Française des Sociétés d'Assurances 17, Place de la Bourse

26, Bd. Haussmann      F 75082 PARIS CEDEX 2

F 75009 PARIS     

Médiateur de Groupement des Enterprises Mutuelles

9 r de Saint Petersbourg

F 75008 PARIS

The Ombudsman for the Credit Institutions   Insurance Ombudsman of Ireland

8 Adelaide Court        32 Upper Merrion Street

IRL - DUBLIN 8        IRL DUBLIN 2

Ombudsman Bancario      ISVAP

Via delle Botteghe Oscure 46    Sezione Reclami

I - 00186 ROMA       Via del Quirinale, 21

                I 00187 ROMA

                

Associazione Nazionale Imprese Assicuratrici, ANIA,

Piazza S. Babila 1 

I - 20122 MILANO

Commission de Surveillance     Mediateur d'Assurance ACA-ULC

du Secteur Financier (CSSF)    Ass. des compagnies d'assurance

110, Route d'Arlon       du Grand-Duché de Luxembourg

L - 2991 LUXEMBOURG     3, rue Guido Oppenheim

            L 2263 LUXEMBOURG

Union Luxembourgeoise des Consommateurs (ULC)

55 rue des Bruyères

L-1274 HOWALD

Stichting Geschillencommissie     The Dutch Security Institute -

voor Consumentenzaken     Complaints Board

Surimanestraat 24       Raadhuisstraat 20

NL - 2585 GJ 's GRAVENHAGE   NL - 1016 DE AMSTERDAM

                

Nederlandse Ombudsman Verzekeringen  

Klachteninstitut 

Postbus 93560     

NL-2509 AN DEN HAAG

Verband der Versicherungsunternehmen Österreichs 

Association Complaints Department  

Schwarzenbergplaz 7

A 1031 WIEN

Centro de Arbitragem de Conflitos de Consumo Comissão do Mercado de Valores

Mercado Chão de Loureiro (1st floor)   Mobiliários (CMVM)

Largo do Chão do Loureiro    Avenida Fontes Pereira de Melo 21

P 1100 LISBOA       P- 1056-801 LISBOA

                

Consumer Complaint Board    The Finnish Insurance

Box 306            Complaints Board

Kaikukatu 3         c/o The Finnish Insurance

FIN - 00531 HELSINKI      Ombudsman Bureau

                Lönnrotinkatu 19 A

                FIN-00120 HELSINKI

Financial Ombudsman Service, including:

- The Office of the Banking Ombudsman

- The Office of the Building Societies Ombudsman

- Personal Investment Authority Ombudsman Bureau

- Office of the Investment Ombudsman

South Quay Plaza

183 Marsh Wall

UK - LONDON E14 9SR

Banking and Securities Complaints Committee. Insurance Complaints Committee

Fjármálaeftirlitið (The Financial Supervisory   Fjármálaeftirlitið

Authority)           (The Financial Supervisory Authority)

Suðurlandsbraut 32       Suðurlandsbraut 32

IS - 108 REYKJAVÍK       IS - 108 REYKJAVÍK

                

Forbrukernes Forsikeringskontor 

(Norwegian bureau for insurance disputes) 

Bygdøy allé 19

N 0262 OSLO