David Locke

The Australian Financial Complaints Authority (AFCA) has only implemented four of the 14 recommendations from the independent review of it undertaken by Treasury in 2021, according to AFCA CEO and chief ombudsman David Locke.

Locke said in AFCA’s 2022-23 Annual report, released on Monday, that the disciplinary body is making progress on the remaining 10 recommendations, with two expected to be implemented by the end of this year.

“We’re [also] on track to deliver a new consumer portal in 2023–24, offering a streamlined, intuitive interface for lodging and tracking complaints,” he said.

“We will also deliver a new member portal and integrated case management system, speeding up dispute resolution for our financial firm members.”

Locke added that these platforms, designed to streamline automated complaint handling for employees, customers, and members, will be implemented at the start of next year.

AFCA reported in July that it had received 96,987 complaints from consumers and small businesses in 2022-23, which was 34 per cent more than the year before.

This indicated the community was experiencing increasing financial difficulties, ongoing problems with scams, and persistent delays in handling insurance claims for over a year, according to the 2022-23 Annual Review.

AFCA received 4840 complaints about investments and advice in the past year, according to the review – marking a 51 per cent increase from the previous year. Of these, 2257 complaints were resolved. Of the complaints received, 1696 (35 per cent) were related to self-managed superannuation funds.

The company also received 6957 other superannuation-related complaints, a 32 per cent increase from last year, and closed 6142 in an average of 102 days. The most common complaint was about account administration, totalling 4,369. These complaints often stem from service quality issues, including unclear communication, slow dispute resolution, and unresponsive trustees. Complaints about delays in handling insured benefit claims surged by 136 per cent, primarily related to total and permanent disability and income protection claims, as well as delays in paying death benefits.

Some 1898 complaints about life insurance were submitted to AFCA, as well – a 24 per cent drop from the previous. Of the total number of complaints, 1468 (36 per cent) were resolved at the registration and referral stage.

“The future will continue to present challenges such as rising interest rates, cost-of-living challenges, escalating scams and financial crime, reinforcing the need for AFCA’s services,” Locke wrote in the review.

“Our work continues.”