Whether we like it or not, complaints are a part of daily life. Given the regulated nature of financial services and the introduction of Consumer Duty, it’s vital that financial services companies respond to complaints appropriately. And rightly so. Unfortunately, errors or poor processes can lead to significant losses for customers. So root cause analysis and potential redress are important to put things right.

But enough with the negatives. Complaints aren’t necessarily a bad thing. They give companies the chance to identify areas of improvement, strengthen processes and reassure customers they genuinely care about their needs. The occasional mistake is inevitable, what’s important is how companies respond.

What is a complaint?

Before diving into how to respond to complaints, it’s important to understand what a complaint is. The FCA defines a complaint as “Any oral or written expression of dissatisfaction, whether justified or not, about the provision of, or failure to provide, a financial service; and which alleges that the complainant has suffered (or may suffer) financial loss, material distress or material inconvenience.” And companies must accept complaints in the format they’re given. So if a customer expresses dissatisfaction in a phone call, it’s not acceptable to ask them to put their complaint in writing.

How should I respond to complaints?

The FCA’s defined process for handling most complaints is as follows:

  1. Send a prompt acknowledgement letter to the customer, providing early reassurance that the complaint’s been received and is being dealt with.
  2. Make sure the customer is kept updated about what’s being done to resolve the complaint.
  3. If the customer has been disadvantaged as a result of the company’s actions, a decision must be made about what redress, financial or otherwise, is appropriate.

After eight weeks from the initial complaint, a letter needs to be sent to the customer explaining the decision and why it was reached. If a decision hasn’t been made after eight weeks, the letter should explain why and how long this will likely take.

In either case, the letter needs to tell the customer they can refer the complaint to the Financial Ombudsman if they’re unhappy with the outcome, and include a leaflet with more information.

The timeframes are different for PSDs and EMD complaints. These relate to the conduct of business rules set out in the Payment Services Regulations 2017 or the Electronic Money Regulations 2011. For more information, please see the FCA handbook.

What about public complaints?

In today’s digital world, expressions of dissatisfaction aren’t always made privately. They can appear on forums, social media, or review websites like Smart Money People (as we’re the dedicated financial services review site). If a company becomes aware of a complaint in this form, it’s important to deal with it appropriately. So the exact same three steps as above should be taken. Not just to meet the FCA’s rules, but also from a commercial point of view. Failing to deal with a public complaint is not a good look for PR.

Of course, the challenge for companies is having sight of all this. Searching the internet or carrying out social listening to identify potential complaints is very time consuming (and expensive). But luckily there’s help out there. For example, Smart Money People offer the ability to receive new alerts when someone reviews a particular company. This gives companies instant sight of the review, meaning they can respond appropriately if it meets the definition of a complaint (or even if it doesn’t).

How can I respond to public complaints effectively?

Quite simply, if a complaint or negative review is left publicly, it’s important to take quick action. Companies should thank the customer for raising their concerns, and tell them they’ve logged a complaint to be investigated in line with the FCA’s policy. This assures the customer (and other customers) that the complaint has been taken seriously. This is far favourable to leaving the feedback unaddressed, and potentially growing legs.

Most importantly, even if the complaint isn’t justified, it’s important not to respond by calling this out publicly and getting into a war of words. This may sometimes go down well when restaurants respond to negative reviews, but not in financial services!


Complaints come in all shape and sizes, and are left both privately and publicly. It’s vital to have oversight and control over as many public places where complaints can appear as possible. Both for brand reputation and to identify areas of improvement.

To find out how you can respond to reviews or complaints left at Smart Money People, head over to our Review Management page.