Complaints with private banks: How the banking ombudsmen can help you

Sylvie Ernoult

Why are there ombudsmen?

If a conflict between consumer and bank cannot be resolved, then the ombudsmen come into play. Here, independent persons - former judges - help consumers in disputes with their private bank in an out-of-court, unbureaucratic conciliation procedure. The ombudsmen bring both sides into contact via correspondence and work out solutions.

The Association of German Banks had already voluntarily founded the out-of-court conciliation procedure in 1992 in order to take up efforts at European and national level to make lengthy and expensive court proceedings unnecessary. In this way, the banking association and its members - the private banks - proved to be pioneers of a then still young but efficient form of dispute resolution and faced up to the changing demands of consumer policy. The arbitration procedure through ombudsmen was the first system of its kind in the German financial sector and has gained notoriety and reputation since its inception.

The most influential critics of the banks are thus the ombudsmen themselves. They stand for independence, neutrality and trust. Their assertiveness and competence are decisive for the high acceptance of the private banks' conciliation procedure among customers, banks and the general public.

How does the conciliation procedure work?

As a first step in the conciliation procedure, all conciliation requests received are checked for admissibility and competence. If these criteria are met, the documents are checked for completeness. If something is missing, the office of the private bank ombudsman will contact you and request the missing information. As soon as the documents are complete, the complaint is forwarded to the bank concerned. The bank then has one month to respond to the complaint.

If the bank agrees with you and settles the disagreement in the client's favour, the conciliation procedure is over. Otherwise, you will be informed of the bank's negative statement and referred to the possibility of making a further statement within one month. After that, the case will be submitted to the conciliator for a decision. If the comments or documents submitted so far are not sufficient for the conciliator to issue a conciliation award, he may request further information from the parties. The conciliator then communicates his decision to the parties directly. This ends the conciliation proceedings. There is no right of appeal against the conciliation award. If the claimant is not satisfied with the conciliation award, he or she can take the dispute to court at any time.

The conciliation procedure is not only free of charge for bank customers, but also without risk. If the customers do not agree with the conciliators' decisions, they can still go to the ordinary courts. However, if the complaint is successful, they can get their rights quickly and easily. 

The banks have committed themselves to accept arbitration decisions up to a complaint value of 10,000 euros. This binding effect is not a matter of course; binding decisions are not part of the general standard for arbitration institutions voluntarily supported by the business community. As practice shows, banks often also accept non-binding conciliation awards against them with a complaint value exceeding 10,000 euros.

Important note: The ombudsmen cannot help if pure legal advice is requested by the customer. Nor do the ombudsmen intervene if a court is already dealing with or has dealt with the conciliation request. The same applies in the event that witnesses would have to be heard to establish the facts of the case.



Sylvie Ernoult

Media Spokeswoman

Association of German Banks

+49 30 1663-1210E-Mail senden