CAC head bemoans lack of cooperation from banks

CAC head bemoans lack of cooperation from banks

BY ALPHEA SAUNDERS Senior staff reporter

Thursday, February 12, 2015

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HEAD of the Consumer Affairs Commission (CAC) Dolsie Allen says the agency is still having difficulties getting certain information from financial institutions to assist with its work.

The problem, she told the Jamaica Observer, has continued despite calls being made in recent years for banks and other financial institutions to provide more information to the public.

"For example, when we were doing an Inter-American Development Bank project looking at the different contracts for financial services, we had a very difficult time just getting a copy of a contract from the bank for a mortgage or a loan. Those of us at the CAC who have contracts just basically gave the consultants the information to use [as] we had such a hard time just getting a contract. Unless you are taking a loan, they refuse to give you even just the very basic contract," said Allen, the CAC's chief executive officer.

She said the CAC has no empirical data as to whether customers are now being better informed by their institutions, or are having an easier time getting the information that they request. "I really don't know," Allen said, noting that complaints about poor service, are still apparent.

The banks have rebuffed the Government's attempts to establish a voluntary code of conduct, which would facilitate more transparency and better customer service.

In 2011, a draft voluntary code of conduct was developed by the CAC and the National Consumers League, which proposed standards of good banking practices and would provide a guide for banks to follow when dealing with customers.

The initiative was backed by regional and international partners, but the banks did not sign on, and months of discussions went nowhere.

"They (banks) have subsequently come up with their own code, which left out some of the areas which we think would be significant for our consumers, in terms of protection," Allen said.

The new Banking Services Act, passed in 2014, will leave institutions no say in the matter, however, as the legislation also makes provisions for an enforceable code of conduct. The draft code is expected to be ready by the end of March.

The Act seeks to advance the creation of a more efficient banking system by bringing banking laws in line with international standards. It repeals the Banking Act and the Financial Institutions Act, and amends sections of the Building Societies Act and the Bank of Jamaica Act. The legislation is not yet in force.

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