October 15, 2007
Comptroller Dugan Tells Conference that Consumers Will Benefit From More Unified Interagency Approach to Complaint Handling
HOUSTON — Comptroller of the Currency John C. Dugan said today that customers of banks, thrifts, and credit unions could benefit significantly from an interagency initiative to create a more streamlined and consumer-friendly approach to handling questions and complaints. In particular, he described "one area of our work that I think could stand real improvement: using technology to better coordinate what we now do separately."
"It makes little sense to maintain entirely distinct complaint handling systems at the five federal agencies and all the various states," he said in a speech to an Interagency Consumer Complaint Conference sponsored by the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency. "Surely we can make significant improvements without compromising the ability of each agency to use its own people and skills to address the consumer's concerns."
The Comptroller noted that the Federal Financial Institutions Examination Council agreed at its September meeting to form a working group to begin looking at ways to streamline the process. In this effort, he said, the agencies can take advantage of the considerable time, effort, and money that has already been invested.
"We have created special Web sites, built call centers that take advantage of cutting edge technology, and developed advanced systems for referring misdirected complaints to the appropriate agency," he said. "The problem, though, is that we tend to do these jobs differently – and sometimes a lot differently."
The FFIEC asked the working group to consider hiring an independent consultant to evaluate work that has already been done and to make recommendations on how existing systems might be leveraged to better serve consumers.
"That makes sense to me," Mr. Dugan said. "A knowledgeable third party could provide disinterested advice on the feasibility of joint projects and common approaches, recommend timelines, and evaluate costs and benefits – and do so with a measure of independence that would help address parochial resistance to change."
Mr. Dugan said the working group might consider a gateway Web site that would serve as an interface for customers of any bank. This common Web site would not replace the consumer parts of each agency's Web sites. Instead, it could serve to route consumers to the right agency's Web site – through the use of some kind of easy-to-use look-up tool – to begin the complaint process.
"We've recently launched a Web site like this at the OCC, though it is by no means a common Web site for consumers of all banks," Mr. Dugan said. "It's called HelpWithMyBank.gov, and it contains frequently asked questions and answers for national bank customers; an online complaint form; and a look-up tool to help a consumer determine if his or her bank is a national bank."
Another candidate for enhanced coordination would be our approach to complaints received by phone. "We ought to examine whether consumers would benefit from an interagency-sponsored customer call-routing center that would expeditiously get questions and complaints to the right agency," he said.
Other areas where a more unified approach would be helpful include creation of a common complaint form, a common philosophy for consumer complaint coding, and a common complaint referral system that would expedite the routing of misfiled complaints.
Mr. Dugan also thanked the complaint specialists from the various state and federal agencies who attended the conference for the work they do for consumers.
"It's work that matters, not just to the agencies that employ you, but even more important, to each consumer that you help," he said. "As banks handle more and more important financial transactions for more and more consumers, the importance of your work will only increase. And that's why I think it's so important that we maximize the use of technology and coordinate our efforts to make it easier for you to do your jobs."