The financial counselling sector has today released its third annual Rank the Banks survey and it contains both bouquets and brickbats.
Nearly 300 financial counsellors were surveyed for their views on how the banking industry is responding to customers in financial hardship.
Financial counsellors were also asked for the first time to rank the hardship practices of debt collection companies and to compare the hardship policies of different industries.
Big Four banks
All four of the major big banks are doing well and have lifted their game compared to the 2015 and 2013 surveys. On a scale of 1 to 10, where one was the lowest ranking and 10 the highest ranking, the order was: Comm Bank 7.2, NAB 7.1 and ANZ and Westpac both achieving a score of 7.0. These differences are minuscule.
Commonwealth Bank was the most improved bank, which was a big leap compared to its position as the lowest of the big four in the 2015 survey.
Overall, financial counsellors remain concerned that customers that self-advocate may not get as good a deal.
Disappointingly, the ratings for the smaller banks overall were much lower than the ratings for the bigger banks, ranging from 3.2 to 5.7. Their management had pledged after previous surveys to improve their approach to customers in hardship but this clearly hasn’t eventuated.
Bendigo and ING Direct were the only two banks that had higher ratings in 2017 than in previous years. Suncorp essentially remained the same, whereas the ratings for all the other smaller banks were lower in 2017 compared to previous surveys. Although not a bank, Latitude was included as it operates in the same market. Its result showed a large drop from 5.7 in 2015 to 4.3 in 2017.
Debt collectors were also rated for the first time. Credit Corp Group scored the highest rating (6.9) while the ratings for the other debt collectors were very low ranging from between 5.2 to 3.2.
As a general rule, financial counsellors found the debt recovery industry difficult to work with, commenting that staff didn’t find workable solutions for their clients. Paradoxically, however, financial counsellors reported some improvement in the industry, possibly because some individuals at companies were particularly helpful.
Industry-wide hardship practices
Industry-wide hardship practices were also ranked and it should be of some concern to telecommunication companies that they ranked last with a rating of 3.7 – lagging well behind not only the major banks (7.4), utility companies (6.1), the smaller banks (5.50 but also the debt collection companies (4.2).
At the heart of an effective hardship policy is the understanding that customers must be treated with respect and empathy. This is not only the right thing to do, but it leads to better commercial outcomes.
(The report can be downloaded here.)
Fiona Guthrie, CEO, Financial Counselling Australia
M: 0402 426 835
 The term debt collectors also includes companies that purchase debts from the originating creditors and then collect them. This term is used as it the way the industry is understood and described in the community and by financial counsellors.