This is the third year in which I have reported in my capacity as chairman of the Financial Ombudsman Service, but it is the first in which I can do so as chairman of a fully empowered statutory scheme.
I first pay tribute to the forbearance and patience of the schemes from which we took over. The period of transition lasted longer than they or we had expected. We are grateful for the co-operation they showed.
Almost at the same time that we became fully fledged, we became an immediate object of attention as ombudsman decisions about complaints relating to endowment mortgages became high profile. From now on, we must expect this to happen from time to time. As consumers and the industry get used to a comprehensive statutory ombudsman, linked to a powerful regulator, issues of interest and concern will thrust us into the spotlight. The role of the board in these circumstances is to ensure that nerves remain steady, and that, above all, the independence of the ombudsmen's decision-making is recognised and secured.
The cases which attracted the most attention were only a small part of our work during the year. Most of our complaints involved routine and unremarkable disputes across the wide spectrum of financial products and services - important to the parties involved, but of little significance to the rest of the world.
At the conclusion of the year under report, seven members of the board completed their term of appointment: Michael Barnes, Ruth Evans, Maggie Lee, Oonagh MacDonald, Sylvie Pierce, John Rawlings and Charles Wilson. They served during the crucial setting-up phase of the new service and contributed greatly to its formation. I am grateful to them.
Andreas Whittam Smith
13 June 2002
The photos in this annual review were taken during the year by staff at the Financial Ombudsman Service, to record different aspects of their work in resolving complaints.