Last Updated on Thursday, 5 August, 2021 at 8:53 am by Andre Camilleri
Dayna Camilleri Clarke met with Dr Reno Borg, Malta’s Financial Arbiter to discuss the findings from their recent annual report and the challenges faced during Covid-19.
Covid-19 affected every element of business and it may be unsurprising to learn that the work of the financial arbiter, Dr Reno Borg, increased during such a time. The Office of the Arbiter for Financial Services (OAFS) works to resolve disputes between customers of financial services and service providers.
“We had a considerable number of cases from customers outside of Malta against financial service providers authorised in Malta. However, since the inception of our Office, five years ago, we had to adopt technology as it was never feasible to ask customers from remote parts of the world to come to Malta for oral hearings. Our work was minimally interrupted at the Office and we were able to continue to offer our services. We shifted entirely online, even for hearings for persons residing in Malta.”
“We have established a system whereby minor cases are dealt with separately by our Consumer Relations officers. During 2020, our Customer Relations officers handled over 1,000 minor cases; these did not require the formal mediation and adjudication stages. When we first set up this Office, it was always our intention to foster the mediation culture. I am pleased to note that during the last year, 73 cases were referred to mediation, a sizeable increase from previous years. In total we gave 500 formal decisions.”
Speaking to this newsroom, Dr Borg stressed the importance of the independence of the Office. “Our Office acts independently and impartially of all parties concerned and it is not subject to the direction or control of the executive, any other persons or authority. In this way, we can act fairly and the law enables us to determine and adjudicate on a complaint in a reasonable manner, sensitive to the particular merits of the case.”
After filing a case at the Office, the first layer of support is the Customer Relations officers. If it is not resolved at this level, the case will progress to formal mediation, investigation and adjudication. The arbiter’s decision brings the dispute to an end, but the decision could be appealed before the Court of Appeal.
“Our system enables a more informal process than taking an entity to Court. We try to work efficiently and as speedily as possible. The arbiter can award up to a maximum of €250,000 for each case, together with any other sum due by way of interest. Above this limit, the arbiter may only make a recommendation to the service provider, but such excess is not binding.”
Dr Borg noted a shift in the pattern of types of claims. “Covid-19 brought with it a rise in travel insurance claims which, given the scenario, was to be expected; but, interestingly, we also saw a rise in claims relating to car insurance and private pensions. In 2019, we handled 48 complaints relating to the insurance sector while last we dealt with 89 cases. This is a significant rise involving different areas, such as pet insurance and life assurance cases.”
In general, the types of cases handled by an arbiter involve banking, investments and all forms of insurance. These may include disputes over pensions, opening bank accounts, bad advice and mis-selling. “Never be rushed with the fine print of a contract,” adds Dr Borg. “If you are unsure of the wording, seek a second opinion.”
Finally, Dr Borg thanked all stakeholders, his staff for their continued dedication, the general public and the media for their support.