2020–21 Annual Review

External engagement

Community expectation of transparency and effectiveness in public institutions is higher than ever. Consumers and small businesses, members and government will continue to demand more from AFCA.

To ensure AFCA can effectively respond to these demands, in 2021 we developed a stakeholder engagement framework that supports us in developing strong and meaningful relationships with key external stakeholders. This framework provides mechanisms that make certain we use the insights we gain through this engagement to inform our approach.

AFCA undertakes a wide range of external stakeholder engagement to support our strategy and vision to be a world-class ombudsman service that contributes to, and benefits, the broader community. We seek to grow and maintain community trust and confidence in our service and decision-making, and successful engagement with our stakeholders supports this goal.

We achieve this by developing strong and meaningful relationships with a broad range of key external stakeholders – from consumer, member and industry bodies through to regulators and government. We meet with stakeholders regularly and focus on measured, purposeful and targeted engagement, as we seek to inform change and influence better practices in the financial services sector.

Desired stakeholder engagement outcomes

In implementing our stakeholder engagement framework, we track the success of our stakeholder engagement against our values and key outcomes, including the following:

  • We are viewed as a world-class ombudsman service, with a deep understanding of the financial services sector, consumers, stakeholders and their needs.
  • We have strong and trusted relationships with our diverse range of stakeholders, striving to meet their needs and receive their support.
  • Stakeholders seek our input because AFCA is viewed as knowledgeable and solution-oriented.
  • We raise standards through providing useful data and insights that help empower members and other stakeholders to improve practices and better meet community needs.

Stakeholder engagement principles

Our principles of engagement are directly linked to our organisation values. In all our stakeholder engagement activities we commit to the following:

  • Engagement is purposeful and targeted.
  • We clearly identify the people and organisations we want to engage with.
  • We engage proactively and not only when we need support.
  • We manage how we are perceived in the broader external environment.

Who we engage with

AFCA has a broad range of external stakeholders – from those who use our service to those who are interested in AFCA’s broader role in informing reform and improving industry practice.

We work in a close, regular and proactive manner with consumers, small businesses and industry to share insights and information that can help raise standards in the financial services industry and improve practices to meet the needs of the Australian community.

AFCA also regularly engages with consumer advocates, including financial counsellors, community lawyers and financial capability workers as part of our work to support access to our service.

Our stakeholders are important to us and provide valuable feedback and insights, so that we can provide the best possible service. As such, we follow a robust engagement program that includes forums, liaison groups, one-on-one meetings, events, consultations, webinars, newsletters and social media.

Website

The AFCA website contains all the information about AFCA and our ombudsman service – including the types of complaints we consider (including our Rules), our approaches to common complaints and other information, such as factsheets. It also includes published decisions and consumer-focused information on how to lodge a complaint.

We have dedicated pages for significant events and updates, such as media releases and the latest news items.

The AFCA online complaint form is accessible via our website. It allows consumers to lodge complaints at a time that suits them, including outside office hours.

From 1 July 2020 to 30 June 2021, the AFCA website had 969,502 unique visitors and 3,299,596 total page views.

The most visited webpages were the AFCA online complaint form, information about insurance complaints and the ‘Find a financial firm or superannuation fund’ search function.

Social media

We use social media to engage with consumers about the work we do, the types of complaints we consider and how to lodge a complaint if they have a dispute with their financial firm. We also use social media to communicate with members and other financial industry stakeholders, including regulators and members of government.

Engaging with our stakeholders on social media platforms provides proactive opportunities to announce important updates about our service, significant events and media releases. We can talk directly with interested parties about the work we do, internally and externally, promote employer brand and increase awareness and accessibility. Facebook, in particular, allows us to encourage consumers to contact their financial firm about their complaint before lodging a complaint with AFCA.

Facebook provides an additional customer service platform. We use direct messaging on Facebook and Twitter to provide consumers with an alternative to our Live Chat function. We answer standard questions about our service, share links to webpages and direct consumers to make a complaint, if required.

AFCA currently uses Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn for social media engagement.

As at 30 September 2021, we had 2,456 Twitter followers, 3,271 Facebook page followers and 11,881 LinkedIn followers.

AFCA Consumer Advisory Panel

The AFCA Consumer Advisory Panel (ACAP) is composed of 10 consumer representatives who meet regularly with our Senior Leadership Group. The panel provides insights and analysis on the consumer-facing elements of AFCA strategy and policy, consumer-related projects and shares real-time information about the financial problems Australians are facing, including challenges accessing financial products and services.

Panel members represent the communities we serve including Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander peoples, culturally and linguistically diverse communities and people experiencing financial difficulty. The panel met online during 2020–21.

Significant matters addressed by the panel included:

  • impacts of the pandemic, including early release of superannuation, payment deferrals and business interruption insurance
  • mis-selling of financial products in First Nations communities
  • consumer credit reforms, repayment history information, financial scams and the ePayments Code
  • debt management firms and ASIC licensing requirements
  • natural disaster responses and insurance
  • AFCA’s Fairness Project, including the Engagement Charter.
ACAP members:
  • Gerard Brody, Chief Executive Officer, Consumer Action Law Centre
  • Karen Cox, Chief Executive Officer, Financial Rights Legal Centre
  • Tony Devlin, Moneycare National Facilitator, Salvation Army
  • Samantha Forsyth, Manager Service Development, Centacare Catholic Country SA
  • Fiona Guthrie, Chief Executive Officer, Financial Counselling Australia
  • Loretta Kreet, Principal Lawyer, Legal Aid Queensland
  • Roberta Grealish, Principal Solicitor, Consumer Credit Legal Service WA
  • Dana Beiglari, Senior Solicitor, Legal Aid NSW
  • Sonia Vignjevic, Victorian State Director, Settlement Services International
  • Jillian Williams, Operations Manager, Indigenous Consumer Action Network
  • Peter Gartlan, Independent Chair

AFCA would also like to acknowledge the significant contributions of the following outgoing members: Ma’ata Solofoni (Legal Aid NSW), Paul Holmes (Legal Aid Queensland), Gemma Mitchell (then Consumer Credit Legal Service WA) and Anne Crouch (Uniting Country SA).

Consumer Advocate Liaison Meetings

In 2020, we launched a new community of practice for constructive dialogue between consumer advocates and our senior managers. Consumer Advocate Liaison Meetings (CALM) provide a platform to share knowledge, discuss service delivery, process questions and concerns, and build relationships between a broad range of community organisations.

The 24 members of CALM come from organisations that provide case management, advice and representation for clients who have a complaint with AFCA.

Topics discussed and consulted on included:

  • AFCA’s approach to conciliation
  • fairness, including AFCA’s Engagement Charter
  • the key steps in Registration and Referral, including the process for urgent complaints and accessibility support for vulnerable people.
Conferences and events

Throughout the financial year, AFCA team members attended events in multiple capacities including as keynote speakers and presenters, panel discussion members, and training workshop hosts and facilitators.

These included one-on-one meetings, forums, e-forums, virtual meetings, events and speaking engagements, and community forums. We also continued to support the financial counselling sector by providing professional development and covering topics such as small business and natural disasters, and insurance.

Although many scheduled events throughout 2020–21 were impacted by the pandemic, AFCA attended in person when possible, or otherwise made virtual presentations.

Financial Counselling Australia Conference and External Dispute Resolution Forum

At this year’s External Dispute Resolution Forum, held during the Financial Counselling Australia National Conference in Darwin, Energy and Water Ombudsman NSW, Energy and Water Ombudsman (Victoria), Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman and AFCA hosted the External Dispute Resolution (EDR) Star Awards for the first time. We invited financial counsellors to submit a video story about the outcome of an EDR complaint and what it meant to their client.

AFCA congratulates the inaugural 2021 EDR Star Award winner, Financial Counsellor Carly Baker, from Bethany Community Support for her professionalism, passion and dedication.

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