- About this Annual Review
- Year at a glance
- Acknowledgement of country
- Board Chair message
- Chief Executive Officer and Chief Ombudsman message
- Organisational overview
- AFCA Independent Review
- Who complained to AFCA?
- Overview of complaints
- Open cases
- Closed cases
- Banking and finance complaints
- Buy now pay later
- Scam complaints
- Financial difficulty complaints
- Small business complaints
- General insurance complaints
- Significant events
- Life insurance complaints
- Superannuation complaints
- Investments and advice complaints
- Complaints lodged by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples
- Complaints lodged by consumer advocates and financial counsellors
- Complaints lodged by paid representatives
- Complaints outside AFCA’s Rules
- AFCA’s Systemic Issues function
- AFCA’s Code compliance and monitoring functiong
- Engagement, awareness and accessibility
- Corporate information
- AFCA General Purpose Financial Report
This year was the busiest in AFCA's history, with 34% more complaints received than last year. It is less than five years since AFCA started on 1 November 2018, and we have already resolved over 370,000 complaints. This work has resulted in $1.15 billion in compensation awarded to consumers and small businesses (as at September 2023).
This year, along with our crucial ‘business as usual’ work we’ve been:
- progressing our business and IT transformation project, designed to boost response times and improve member and consumer experiences
- expanding our community outreach and stakeholder engagement program to ensure a more inclusive service
- responding to Treasury's Independent Review recommendations
- embedding AFCA’s internal culture.
Despite a very demanding 2022–23, I am proud of AFCA’s achievements.
AFCA is committed to delivering fair, efficient and timely services. When an individual or business comes to us with a complaint or dispute, the process should be as seamless and simple as possible.
Our business and IT transformation project has been redesigning all of AFCA’s processes to achieve this. We’re on track to deliver a new consumer portal in 2023–24, offering a streamlined, intuitive interface for lodging and tracking complaints. We will also deliver a new member portal and integrated case management system, speeding up dispute resolution for our financial firm members. Developed around best practices, these platforms will offer our people, consumers and members a more streamlined, user-friendly automated complaint handling process. They will be in use early next year.
Activity grew across all AFCA channels in 2022–23:
- Our consumer and small business phone line fielded 138,333 calls, up 16%.
- Calls to our membership line rose 15%, totalling 17,192.
- The significant event hotline experienced a 76% increase with 14,069 calls.
- We saw a 39% uptake in online live chats, totalling 29,381 sessions.
- Demand for interpreter services grew 54% to 1,376 (72 languages).
- Use of our online complaint form surged 78%, with 75,481 complaints lodged.
Awareness and accessibility
AFCA has a duty to meet the needs of the diverse communities we serve. Every Australian should know about their financial ombudsman and how to access our services. We are dedicated to creating a customer experience that is culturally sensitive, respectful, inclusive and flexible. Our services must be safe and equitable, and information offered in multiple languages across varying formats.
This year marked the second year of our three-year awareness strategy, involving an 'always-on' approach across traditional, digital and social media channels. We focused on supplying resources to vulnerable communities and individuals facing financial hardship or dealing with the impacts of natural disasters.
During 2022–23 we:
- expanded our Community Engagement team to deliver on our accessibility framework and improve its resources
- launched the AFCA Peer Support Network pilot program, offering specialised training in trauma-informed practice and support for survivors of domestic violence
- entered the next phase of our reconciliation journey with the launch of our ‘Reflect’ Reconciliation Action Plan.
We have significantly expanded our community outreach program and sought to reach communities and customers less likely to be aware of our services. We strived to connect with and support disadvantaged and vulnerable groups, including:
- Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities
- culturally and linguistically diverse communities
- people living with disabilities
- newly settled migrants
- older Australians who may be victims of financial elder abuse
- survivors of family and domestic violence
- communities affected by natural disasters.
Our dedication to ongoing community engagement has fostered valued relationships with the consumer sector. This includes consumer advocates directly involved in both internal and external dispute resolution, such as:
- financial counselling services, including financial capability workers
- community legal centres specialising in consumer credit law
- generalist community legal centres
- legal aid services providing civil advice, disaster relief and other assistance.
This year, we attended and presented at Financial Counselling Australia conferences across Australia. We were also part of First Nations community events including the Yabun Festival, Warangesda Festival and the Miriwoong Forum. We visited Thursday Island to learn about issues affecting the local community, such as scams and BNPL schemes, and explored ways to make AFCA services more accessible there.
The Independent Review of AFCA undertaken by Treasury (reported November 2021) assessed our effectiveness in resolving complaints in a fair, efficient, timely and independent manner. The review reflected positively on our operations and made 14 recommendations – 13 to AFCA and one to government. This year we continued to work on implementing the recommendations to AFCA, successfully completing four in the 2022 calendar year, with an additional two to be completed by the end of 2023. We continue to make progress against all other recommendations.
In the eight weeks between 27 March and 22 May 2023, AFCA ran a stakeholder consultation process on proposed changes to our Rules and Operational Guidelines. We sought to address recommendations from the Independent Review that required Rules changes to implement, and add other amendments to keep the Guidelines accurate and up to date, while also making AFCA's jurisdiction and processes clearer.
As one of the most substantial external consultations AFCA has undertaken, I am proud of how well it was received by our stakeholders. Subject to approvals from the AFCA Board and Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC), the proposed new Rules and Operational Guidelines will commence on 1 July 2024.
This year, in line with our ongoing response to Recommendation 13, which promotes the transparency of systemic issues in public reporting, we launched the first and second editions of the AFCA Systemic Issues Insights Reports. These reports uphold our commitment to being open and offering consumers, members and stakeholders a look into key systemic issues across the industry. They include recent data and findings to assist financial firms in improving their practices.
Reviewing our approach documents
Our approach documents provide clarity on how we handle common issues and complaint types, and detail our investigation procedures and decision-making processes. This year, we consulted on our ‘Approach to Claims for Non-Financial Loss’ and published our ‘Approach to Motor Vehicle Total Loss Complaints’.
We developed two new banking and finance documents – ‘AFCA’s Responsible Lending Approach’ and ‘Appropriate Lending to Small Business Approach’. Consultation on these began in July 2023.
Understanding that culture is integral to executing any successful strategy, we asked our people what they believe constitutes the essence of AFCA's culture. The consensus was clear: we are fundamentally in the business of people. This perspective underpins our ‘People for Purpose’ culture. The commitment embraces our team, customers, the broader Australian community, consumers, small businesses and members alike.
We received a number of awards this year acknowledging our culture and the work of our people and culture team. We were delighted to be recognised as one of the top five best places to work in Australia’s financial services sector in the 2023 AFR BOSS Best Places to Work rankings. We were also awarded Bronze Tier Status in the Australian Workplace Equality Index (AWEI). AWEI is a national standard for LGBTQ+ inclusion awarded by Pride in Diversity under ACON.
In addition, AFCA was accredited as a family friendly workplace in 2023. This significant achievement recognises AFCA’s commitment to delivering equality, inclusivity and wellbeing outcomes for our employees and their families, by working within a framework and set of National Work and Family Standards developed by UNICEF.
Diversity, inclusion and belonging
We champion diversity, encourage inclusivity and cultivate a sense of belonging. In March 2023, we proudly unveiled our Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging Strategy at special in-person events in Melbourne and Sydney. The strategy, alongside a detailed three-year action plan, sets out our priorities across four pillars:
- Inclusive systems and processes
- Leadership capability
- Diverse thinking teams
- Governance and accountability
Our focus is on refining our policies, recruitment, promotion and messaging.
We have established three new employee resource groups for family and carers, people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds, and people living with a disability. These are in addition to AFCA’s existing Ally Network.
By valuing the different backgrounds and perspectives of our people, we enhance our collective strength to drive better outcomes for the customers and communities we serve.
Our vision is to create a safe, productive work environment with a positive culture that supports our people's health, safety and wellbeing. Accordingly, our Health, Safety and Wellbeing Strategy is built on these core objectives:
- Promotion: Actively promote mental and physical health.
- Prevention: Aim to prevent harmful situations.
- Support: Support team members facing mental or physical challenges.
An engaged team
We want our people to feel, and be, included, respected and empowered to learn, grow and lead. We run an annual Insight Employee Experience survey, usually in October. A shorter Employee Pulse survey (completed by 93% of staff in April) captures how we’re tracking. The 85% engagement score was our highest ever and reaffirms our commitment to an open, diverse and flexible work environment.
Better ways of working
As a knowledge-based organisation, we want to make sure everyone has a shared understanding of what needs to be done. We’ve been working towards a central, reliable, up-to-date information source to improve our operational efficiency, consistency and predictability in decision-making. Last financial year, we launched a new intranet and designed our Knowledge Centre to replace our traditional resource libraries. In 2023 –24, we will shift our entire business operations to the new Knowledge Centre.
I’d like to thank AFCA's Chair and Board for their support and diligent performance in their governance role. To our dedicated staff, whose commitment to fairness and justice drives our service, again thank you. Your relentless efforts, despite increased workloads, have upheld our responsibilities to the Australian community and financial sector.
I was delighted to be re-appointed this year for a second 5-year term as Chief Ombudsman and CEO of AFCA, as we continue to build a world-class ombudsman service.
As 2023–24 begins, I am excited to stay on this journey, again driven by the AFCA team’s professionalism and passion. The future will continue to present challenges such as rising interest rates, cost-of-living challenges, escalating scams and financial crime, reinforcing the need for AFCA’s services. Our work continues.
CEO and Chief Ombudsman