OBSI releases Report on Income and Canadian Financial Consumer Complaints

Posted On Thursday October 29, 2020

Toronto, October 29, 2020 – The services of the Ombudsman for Banking Services and Investments (OBSI) are more likely to be accessed by lower- and middle-income Canadians than wealthier Canadians, according to the organization’s just released Report on Income and Canadian Financial Consumer Complaints. The report also found that the cases brought forward by these consumers are as likely to be resolved in their favour, and for as much financial compensation, as cases brought forward by those from higher-income households.

"Household income level can be difficult to consider in isolation, as it is highly correlated with other factors, such as gender, age, marital status, geographic location, educational background and employment status," said Sarah Bradley, Ombudsman and Chief Executive Officer, OBSI. "But, lower- and middle-income households make up approximately 65% of the consumers who reach out to OBSI for assistance each year. Our data, through the lens of household income, does paint a picture of the experience of this large segment of users of our service. What it showed was that lower- and middle-income complainants to OBSI are more likely to be female, over 50, and living in a single-person household. They are less likely to have post-secondary education or participate in the workforce than those who report higher household income. The challenges and concerns that they raise with us are different."

The reportexplores the financial services complaint experiences of Canadians at various income levels who used OBSI’s service. The national, not-for-profit organization collected demographic and case data for almost 1,000 closed cases resolved between 2017 to 2019 to create the report. These cases were grouped into three categories:

  • lower-income households (under $60,000);
  • middle-income households ($60,000 to $100,000); and
  • higher-income households (over $100,000).

Key findings

  • Lower-income households represent almost 40% of OBSI cases. Lower-income consumers of financial services need and make use of OBSI as an accessible alternative to the legal system.
  • Nearly one-third (30%) of employed complainants live in lower- or middle-income households. Canadians experience economic barriers to accessing legal services regardless of their employment status.
  • Most lower-income complainants are over 60, while most higher-income complainants are under 50. Older Canadians have a particular need for accessible dispute resolution.
  • OBSI recommended more than $2.5 million in compensation to lower- and middle-income households over a 3-year period. Access to a financial ombudsman facilitates access to justice for families of all income levels.
  • Women are the primary complainant in most lower-income households. At higher income levels, men are more likely to make a complaint than women.
  • Investment suitability is the most common investment-related issue for lower-income complainants.
  • Fraud is the most common banking issue for lower-income complainants.

Observations and solutions

"In Canada and around the world, significant financial barriers exist for those who need assistance to resolve a dispute, particularly when they feel that something has gone wrong with their financial services provider,” said Ms. Bradley. “The complexity of products, complexity of regulation and other informational barriers are compounded by limited resources, especially for lower- and middle-income households. These factors combine to create very real barriers to access to justice that disproportionately impact lower- and middle-income families."

Some of the solutions that OBSI identified in its report include:

  • Overcoming financial barriers to justice by supporting an accessible and effective financial ombudsman service.
  • Addressing informational barriers to access to justice through plain language, consumer-focused communication and clear, straightforward dispute resolution processes. Financial programs that are marketed to lower-income consumers should be subject to clearer disclosure and greater scrutiny.
  • Responding to procedural barriers to access to justice by streamlining and simplifying the dispute resolution process for financial services consumers.

The Report on Income and Canadian Financial Consumer Complaints can be found on OBSI’s website in both English and French.


Canada’s Ombudsman for Banking Services and Investments (OBSI) is a national, independent and not-for-profit organization that helps resolve and reduce disputes between consumers and financial services firms in both official languages. OBSI is responsive to consumer inquiries, conducts fair and accessible investigations of unresolved disputes, and shares its knowledge and expertise with the stakeholders and the public. If a consumer has a complaint against an OBSI participating bank or investment firm that they are not able to resolve with the bank or firm, OBSI will investigate at no cost to the consumer. Where a complaint has merit, OBSI may recommend compensation up to a maximum of $350,000.

For more information, contact:
Mark Wright, Director, Communications and Stakeholder Relations
416-287-2877 ext.2225

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