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4Safeguards to protect financial services customers

4.2 Other safeguards to protect financial services customers

Some of the most important safeguards to protect financial services customers can be summarized as follows:

  • The replacement of the Commissioner for the defense of banking services customers with the respective Claims Services of the three supervisory institutions (Bank of Spain, National Securities Market Commission and Directorate-General of Insurance and Pension Funds) pursuant to Sustainable Economy Law 2/2011.

    The Claims Service resolves any complaints and claims filed by users of the supervised institutions that are related to their legally recognized interests and rights and arise from alleged breaches by those institutions, from the legislation on transparency and customer protection or from best financial practice.

    It also addresses any customer queries about the applicable rules on transparency and customer protection, and about the existing legal channels for exercising their rights.

    The Claims Service operates under the one-stop shop principle (Claims Services of the Bank of Spain, of the CNMV and of the Directorate-General of Insurance and Pension Funds), with any claims being referred to the corresponding supervisory body. It is an independent service that operates in compliance with the principles of transparency, the right of reply, efficacy, legality, freedom and representation.

    Before filing a claim with the Claims Service, the interested party must have had the opportunity to solve it beforehand and therefore must evidence that he/she already filed the claim with the Customer Service Department or Ombudsman of the institution in question.

  • With regard to the above point, an obligation is placed on credit institutions, investment firms and insurers to deal with and resolve their customers’ complaints and claims relating to their interests and rights. For these purposes, they must have a customer care department consisting of an independent body or expert, whose decisions will be binding.

    The purpose of the customer care department or service is to handle and resolve complaints and claims filed by customers. This department or service must be separate from the organization’s other operating services and must act in accordance with the principles of speed, security, effectiveness and coordination. It must also have the human, material, technical and organizational resources that ensure adequate knowledge of the legislation on transparency and the protection of financial services customers.

    The customer ombudsman is an optional body which may be external to the organization of financial institutions. Its purpose is to handle and resolve the claims which are submitted to it for a decision and to promote compliance with the legislation on transparency and customer protection, and with best financial practice. The customer ombudsman must act as an independent body and with full autonomy with respect to the criteria and guidelines to be applied in the performance of its duties.

    Both bodies were implemented by Ministerial Order ECO/734/2004 of March 11, 2004, which regulates the creation of customer care departments and services and the customer ombudsman for financial institutions.

  • Financial institutions must prepare and approve a set of Customer Protection Rules to regulate the work done by the customer care department or service and by the customer ombudsman, where appropriate, and the relationship between the two. Lastly, the customer care department or service and the customer ombudsman, where appropriate, must issue an annual report or summary which must be included in the financial institutions’ Annual Report.

    Law 22/2007 of July 11, 2007, on the distance marketing of consumer financial services was published in the Official State Gazette on July 12, 2007, thereby completing the implementation in Spanish legislation of Directive 2002/65/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of September 23, 2002 concerning the distance marketing of consumer financial services.

    The aim of Law 22/2007 is to establish a specific regime for the protection of users of financial services which is applicable to contracts offered, traded and concluded at a distance. This Law applies both to contracts and the offers related to them, provided that they generate obligations on the part of the consumer, and their subject matter must be the provision to consumers of all kinds of financial services, within the framework of a system of sale or provision of services at a distance organized by the supplier, when such system employs exclusively distance communication techniques, even in the actual conclusion of the contract.

    The most noteworthy aspects of Law 22/2007 are the following:

    1. It establishes the obligation for the financial service provider to notify the terms and conditions of the contracts and provide prior information to the consumer. Any breach by the provider of the disclosure obligations imposed by Law 22/2007 may result in the contract being rendered null and void.
    2. It recognizes a right of withdrawal: this is the consumer’s right to withdraw from a validly concluded contract without being required to state the reasons and without incurring any penalty. This is a kind of “right to repent”. The period for exercising this right is generally 14 calendar days, although in the case of contracts relating to life insurance it is 30 calendar days.
    3. It provides further guarantees in addition to the two basic consumer protection mechanisms described above (transparency and withdrawal). These guarantees serve two purposes:
      1. They protect the consumer from fraudulent or incorrect charges when the financial services have been paid for by card: the cardholder may demand the immediate cancellation of the charge.
      2. They protect the consumer from harassment by suppliers in relation to unsolicited services and communications.
  • Ministerial Order EHA/2899/2011 on transparency and protection for banking services customers was approved on October 28, 2011. The aim of this Ministerial Order is to concentrate the basic transparency regulations in one single text, bringing together the existing disperse regulations into one single document in such a manner so as to make them clearer and more accessible to the general public.

    It also aims to update the existing provisions relating to the protection of bank customers who are individuals, to rationalize, improve and enhance, where necessary, credit institutions’ transparency and conduct obligations. Thus, the requirements in aspects such as information on interest rates and charges, customer communications, contractual information, related financial services, etc., have been enhanced. The Ministerial Order also includes express mention of advisory services, with a view to ensuring that this banking service is provided with the customers’ best interests at all times, and that it includes an appropriate assessment of their position and of the services available on the market. It therefore draws a distinction between this service and direct marketing by institutions of their own products, an activity that is subject to the general transparency regime and requires the appropriate explanations. In addition, it definitively establishes that electronic means will be deemed equivalent, for all effects and purposes, to traditional paper documents, in the relationship between credit institutions and their customers. This Order is implemented by Bank of Spain Circular 5/2012.

    Lastly, the Ministerial Order implements the general principles of the Sustainable Economy Law concerning responsible lending, introducing the obligations needed to ensure that the Spanish financial industry raises its prudential standards in respect of lending, to the benefit of its customers and of market stability. For these purposes, a system has been designed based on an assessment of creditworthiness which aims to assess the risk of nonpayment of a possible loan. This system should not, in any case, represent an obstacle to access to credit by the general public, but rather a legal incentive for healthier and more prudent conduct on the part both of institutions and their customers.

    In addition, the rules of conduct that investment firms must observe are contained both in Securities Market Law and in Royal Decree 217/2008 on the legal regime for investment firms. In this connection, note should also be made of CNMV Circular 7/2011, of December 12, 2011, on fee schedules and standard contracts. With a view to encouraging transparency, the aim is for investors to have sufficient information to enable them to assess whether or not the fees charged are proportional to the quality of the service provided. It is an incentive for institutions to effectively set their fee ceilings in keeping with those generally applied to retail customers.

    It also establishes that fee schedules and standard contracts must be available to customers and potential customers in all customer branches, including external agencies, and that they must also be easily accessible on their websites.

    Note should also be taken of the publication of two ministerial orders: Order EHA/1717/2010 and Order EHA/1718/201035, of June 11, on regulation and control of advertising of investment and banking products and services, respectively.

    Finally, mention should be made of Order ECC/2316/2015 of November 4, 2015, establishing obligations in relation to the classification and provision of information on financial products, which aims to ensure that clients or potential clients of financial products receive adequate protection through the implementation of a standard information and classification system which informs them of the level of risk involved and enables them to choose the product best suited to their savings and investment needs and preferences.

35Implemented by the Bank of Spain Circular 6/2012, of September 28, aimed at credit and payment institutions, on advertising of banking products and services.