Lower- and middle-income Canadians face barriers, says OBSI

Ombudsman report pulls back curtain on complainants' demographic characteristics and outcomes

Lower- and middle-income Canadians face barriers, says OBSI

Investors and financial consumers from lower- and middle-income households are more likely to take grievances to the Ombudsman for Banking Services and Investments (OBSI), according to its new Report on Income and Canadian Financial Complaints.

Drawing from demographic and case data for nearly 1,000 closed cases resolved between 2017 and 2019, the report estimates that among the consumers that approach OBSI for assistance each year, 65% come from lower-income (under $60,000) and middle-income households ($60,000 to $100,000).

“Our data, through the lens of household income, does paint a picture of the experience of this large segment of users of our service,” said Sarah Bradley, Ombudsman and CEO at OBSI.

Bradley said that lower- and middle-income complainants were more likely to be female, over 50 years old, and living in a single-person household. And compared with those who report higher household income, they were less likely to have post-secondary education or to participate in the workforce.

Lower-income households represent almost 40% of OBSI cases, with complainants from this group mostly older than 60 years old. Most lower-income complainants were over 60, whereas most higher-income complainants were under 50. Women tended to be the primary complainant in most lower-income households, while men were more likely to submit a complaint at higher income levels.

The report found that for lower-income complainants, the most investment-related issue tended to be suitability, while the most typical banking issue was fraud. Over a three-year period, OBSI recommended more than $2.5 million in compensation to lower- and middle-income households, though they didn’t necessarily get upheld as OBSI does not have a binding-decision mandate.

“The complexity of products, complexity of regulation and other informational barriers are compounded by limited resources, especially for lower- and middle-income households,” Bradley said. “These factors combine to create very real barriers to access to justice that disproportionately impact lower- and middle-income families.”

The OBSI report offered some recommendations to help bring down the barriers to fair and equitable resolution faced by lower- and middle-income Canadians, including:

  • Supporting an accessible and effective financial ombudsman service;
  • Plain language, consumer-focused communication and clear, straightforward dispute resolution processes;
  • Clearer disclosure and greater scrutiny for financial programs marketed to lower-income consumers; and
  • Streamlining and simplifying the dispute resolution process for financial services consumers.


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