Bloomberg Línea — The development of customer service in the banking sector is progressing slowly in Latin America, a region with low financial inclusion and a poor culture of user rights where, despite the fact that consumers are more aware of their rights, there is a general ignorance of the power they can exercise over their goods and services providers.
Experts consulted by Bloomberg Línea, who cover markets such as Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Mexico and Panama, agree that there is a form of “social engineering”, or a wall of ignorance, that hinders millions of financial services users from punishing banks or exercising their right to better attention and resolution of their problems.
Claims, complaints, sanctions, responses by banking institutions, as well as the evaluations of the supervisors of these financial services are the main indicators that Bloomberg Línea took into account for this survey.
The report is a sample of the extent to which banks in the markets analyzed face and resolve complaints from their users, as well as the type of sanctions or fines imposed by the authorities when failures or irregularities are detected.
This pan-regional work is part of the special reports that Bloomberg Línea presents on its digital multiplatform and that can serve a a reference tool for the decision-making process of the financial community in Latin America.
Brazilian banks are among the largest companies in the country and have the largest number of customers. Because of the type of service they provide, they are also often the target of consumers’ complaints over the quality of their services.
One way to evaluate the services provided by banks is through complaint rankings. Brazil’s central bank, responsible for regulating the financial sector, for example, prepares a periodic survey with the institutions that had the highest number of complaints by consumers in the institution’s service channels.
The most recent survey is from the first quarter of 2023 and brings a list of the fifteen largest institutions in the country, by number of clients, with the highest rate of complaints.
At the top of the list is Banco Pan (BPAN4), which became a subsidiary of BTG Pactual (BPAC11) in December 2022. Banco Pan had the highest rate of complaints among the 15 largest financial institutions in the BC ranking.
The bank had 1,608 complaints registered in the first quarter by the central bank, which generated an index of 71.87, the highest among the 15 institutions evaluated (the higher the number, the worse the evaluation).
The list is followed by Banco Inter, with 825 complaints and an index of 33.24, in second place. Then come C6 Bank (733 complaints/index of 29.09), Pagseguro Pagbank (781 complaints and index of 27.23) and Bradesco (BBDC4) (2,390 complaints and index of 23.05).
The companies that had the lowest index of complaints in the first quarter, meanwhile, are: Ame Digital (147 complaints/index 4.53), Nubank (NU) (482 complaints/index 6.58) and Banco do Brasil (BBAS3), with 637 complaints/index 8.59.
To calculate the index, the central bank takes into account only the complaints considered “justified”, i.e., those in which there is evidence of non-compliance with the law or regulation under the competence of the agency.
Customer service in Chile
According to the National Consumer Service (SERNAC), for the second half of 2022, the companies with the best rating and, therefore, the best performance in the treatment of complaints are Banco de Chile, Banco Security and Banco Itaú.
Meanwhile, among the lowest performers were Banco Falabella, in 25th place; Banco Ripley, in 26th place; and BancoEstado in last place.
At the end of the second half of last year, Chilean banks registered most of the complaints against the Chilean financial system, according to Sernac data.
Customer service in Colombia
The main banks in Colombia logged a total of 1,262 million complaints last year, according to the latest data available from the Superintendencia Financiera. The number of complaints is directly related to the number of users of these financial entities, according to sources of that entity.
Among the different sectors are: Financing Companies; Pension and Severance Fund Administrators (AFP); Special Official Institutions (IOE) and banking establishments, the latter concentrating 72% of the complaints.
In the Mexican financial system, banks are the institutions that receive the most complaints from users, according to the industry’s consumer rights protection agency.
As of April 2023, Mexican banks have received some 55,750 complaints, reports the National Commission for the Defense of Financial Services Users (Condusef). This amounts to a 59% share of the financial system’s total. In second place are insurance companies, with 11,708 complaints (13% of the total) and the rest comes from credit information companies, multiple purpose financial companies, retirement fund administrators and other providers of goods and services.
Regarding the highest volume of complaints during 2022, Condusef points to Banco Azteca as the banking institution with the highest number and percentage of complaints from users, followed by Banamex and BBVA.
In its Customer Service Performance Index (IDATU), Condusef evaluates the type of responses banks give to their customers. In 2022, the agency reported that 11 institutions, out of more than 40 with national coverage, obtained an IDATU of 10.
Customer service in Panama
Panama’s Superintendency of Banks reports that so far in 2023, some 293 complaints have been registered with banking institutions. Credit card-related service complaints predominate, with 27.99% of the total, as well as savings accounts, with 20.82% of claims logged.
The ideal mediator
The action of local financial regulators or authorities in some markets helps when legislation mandates the mediation of consumer defense entities, as is the case in Mexico, Chile or Panama, say experts consulted. Some examples are the National Commission for the Protection and Defense of Financial Services Users (CONDUSEF) in Mexico, the National Consumer Service (SERNAC) agency in Chile, and the Consumer Protection and Competition Defense Authority (ACODECO) in Panama.
“These entities help a lot to empower users by having someone to force banks to respond to their complaints or claims,” Ángel Iván Lozano, director of the Bachelor’s Degree in Economics at the Tecnológico de Monterrey university, told Bloomberg Línea. “Although there are limitations and not everything works in favor of users, the fact that complaints are registered through this mechanism helps consumers.”
Lozano says that in 2022, Condusef received more than 184,000 complaint files, of which some 70,000 had a favorable outcome for users of the financial system and more than 114,000 were unfavorable.
According to Deloitte, which conducted a study into trust in Chilean banking, a distinction must be made between a complaint and a claim. The first is an expression of dissatisfaction with a company’s products or services. The second is a right to formally present disagreement with a product or service for which one has paid or if one believes that consumer rights have been violated during the process.
Biases aside, Deloitte suggests that claims should be taken into account in the region, as they imply a formalization by users in the corresponding channels.
One of the discrepancies between the financial systems of the countries analyzed by Bloomberg Línea is that there is no consistency in the data provided by the institutions. This, according to consumer and consumer rights experts, is mostly due to what is known as ‘social engineering’ and is explained by a lack of knowledge among customers of the tools and complaint mechanisms.
“There are public agencies that support citizens, they exist, but the problem is that there is a social ignorance, of how these tools are formed,” says Lozano. “There is a social ignorance that prevents the enforcement of consumer rights.”
In Chile, says Deloitte, despite being one of the most mature markets in terms of financial inclusion, bank users rarely express a complaint or register a claim with institutions: 46% say they have filed one of these actions at some time, and 54% never.
With the explosion and ubiquity of social networks, channels such as Twitter have become a sounding board for airing complaints. Although, as Lozano says, it is not a formal medium, it does attract the attention of banks, especially depending on the caliber of the complaint and the digital footprint (followers or weight) of the person posting it.
This is important because, as the public moves away from branches and banks channel physical to digital investments, digital listening causes companies to care about attending to this form of exchange with consumers.
“It’s a customer service issue, not a financial issue,” Lozano says. “And of convenience. A user who does not use the official digital channels opts for the networks. Attention inside branches is not observed much because a process can take between one and 50 minutes, either at the window or with an advisor.”
In this regard, a survey by Mitto, an omnichannel consulting firm, conducted in Argentina, Mexico, Peru and Colombia, reveals that 60% of users in these countries still prefer to go to branches in person to communicate with their banks.
“Traditional financial institutions are facing the new needs of their customers, who are increasingly looking for digital, instant and efficient services. Although implementing chatbots, WhatsApp messaging and SMS and email notifications are already creeping into users’ daily lives, customers report that only 31% of their banks offer communication via WhatsApp and 29% via chatbot,” says Mitto in its report.
At the end of the day, Lozano adds, users’ bad customer experience often stems from a bad method of communication with their banks. That is, when a complaint is generated or formulated, it is because there was previously no consistency in the verbal or textual exchanges between user and institution.
Mitto puts it this way: 35% of users say that their experience with their bank was affected by poor communication methods.
Consumer vs. consumer
One issue that some banks and industry agencies face, says Lozano, is that many user complaints and claims have to do with issues of fraud or irregularities between consumer and consumer. This is the case, he says of purchases on platforms such as MercadoLibre and other marketplaces where a buyer pays and a transaction is made, but the product or service is not delivered.
“Agencies such as Condusef in Mexico have to pay attention to these complaints about electronic purchases and separate them as far as banks are concerned,” says the academic.
Total attention and an eye on fintechs
With references such as the index of responses to users (such as Condusef’s IDATU in Mexico, or the indices of agencies in Brazil or Chile), banks have a tool with which to improve not only their statistics, but also the relationship with their customers. However, experts say it should be taken as a total strategy by companies.
“To improve statistics, entities must seek to improve the customer experience from start to finish, understanding the current needs of customers in the face of a diverse community in age, gender, income and access to information, as well as digital competition from companies such as fintechs,” Bryan Rojas, director of financial risk management at KPMG in Colombia, told Bloomberg Línea.
The latter “have gained participation in the financial market by being closer to the needs of customers and offering services such as personal bankers, personalized apps, direct means of communication, among many more elements that with the use of technology allow them to improve the level of customer satisfaction,” he said.
He adds that financial entities must appeal to transparency, open, honest and effective communication. In addition, they should advance in security and privacy processes in the face of the increase in frauds. “Users are increasingly looking for more reliability of their resources and data”.
And finally, he urges these companies to address the haste of use and attention, since “users are looking for speed in their queries and want instant answers”.
Bloomberg Línea consulted the most recent data on complaints, claims and user service performance indices in the various Latin American countries featured in this special report. The editorial team also consulted various specialists who cover the financial industry in the region on the value that financial institutions place on the concept of customer service.
The data that Bloomberg Línea presents were provided by regulatory and consumer protection authorities to follow up on user responses, complaints and claims.
There is no standard that allows us to draw a common denominator due to several factors, such as the size of the markets, the priority that regulators and competition agents give to the matter and the demands of consumers themselves in the face of irregularities in the industry.
Alejandro Ángeles, Daniel Salazar and Lorena Guarino contributed to this report.