The Financial Services Ombudsman (FSO) could soon expand its mandate to have oversight over financial institutions such as credit unions, the Unit Trust Corporation, pension schemes and mutual funds.
This is one consideration of a new strategic plan for the FSO, Central Bank Governor Jwala Rambarran has said.
He was speaking at the opening of the Caribbean Conference on Financial Inclusion "From Agenda to Action" at the Central Bank's offices in Port of Spain on Tuesday.
For now, the FSO is empowered to treat with specific types of complaints involving deposit and loan accounts; investment services, trusts and mutual funds in the banking sector; and its jurisdiction in the insurance sector covers life policies, individual annuity products, fire and general insurance; and third-party property damage claims (up to $50,000) under motor insurance policies.
"Despite its limited jurisdiction, the Ombudsman's Office can claim many successes over its near decade of operations. The number of qualifying banking complaints referred to the Financial Ombudsman amounted to 215 over the past nine years.
"The number of qualifying complaints against the insurance companies referred to the Office amounted to 1,792 over the period 2005 through 2011, most of which were related to motor vehicle insurance," said Rambarran
He pointed out that the Ombudsman has been able to achieve an impressive 94 per cent resolution rate for banking complaints and a 97 per cent resolution rate for insurance complaints.
"Notwithstanding these successes, there is a genuine concern that the Ombudsman's Office lacks teeth.
"Upgrading the existing regime of financial consumer protection in Trinidad and Tobago requires that we expand the Ombudsman's mandate and empower the Office. Ultimately, this will require a change in legislation from a voluntary scheme to one enshrined in law," he said.
He noted that some measures of the strategic plan being worked on would remove the current limitations in the scope of services for addressing complaints that come under the Ombudsman, as well as expand its mandate.
He noted that Trinidad and Tobago was the only country in the region to establish a FSO.
He observed that the work of the FSO was complemented by a financially literate population.
"As the recent global financial crisis and the CL Financial debacle harshly illustrate, consumers who can make informed decisions about financial products and services not only serve their own best interests but, collectively, they can also help promote financial stability," he said.
"For a country in which the financial sector accounts for almost one-fifth of the non-energy economy and employs close to one-tenth of the non-energy workforce, many citizens in Trinidad and Tobago still have limited knowledge about basic financial practices and money management," he added.