A brief overview of the provisions affecting financial institutions
The Spanish Council of Ministers has adopted a preliminary draft law which should include additional rules on customer services.
The purpose of the Regulation is to guarantee the right of consumers and users to free, efficient, accessible, inclusive, non-discriminatory and assessable customer service. In this regard, the bill introduces more detailed customer service obligations than those that existed before, which mainly relate to the following points:
- Customer service offered to people with disabilities and the elderly
- How companies provide information on how to access their customer services and what services are available
- How complaints or requests are handled
- The qualifications and training required for personnel responsible for providing customer service
- The company’s duty to collaborate with consumer and user associations
- The subjection of companies to evaluation systems and regular audits to measure the quality of the customer service provided
Under the current bill, compliance with this bill will be mandatory for all companies (domiciled in Spain or other EU Member States) that provide or offer “basic services of general interest” in Spainincluding financial services. Thus, in addition to Spanish entities, the draft law should encompass EU entities providing services in Spain through a branch or through the free provision of cross-border services.
These proposals have sparked discussion in the market, as financial services complaints and customer support have so far been the primary competence of financial supervisors rather than general local consumer authorities.
Note that, for clarification, the current draft is subject to change until final release.
Many of the provisions included in this new legislation were previously established by the Spanish Law on the General Protection of Consumers and Users and in the other laws complementary to it. In this regard, the bill only reinforces certain obligations that the law had already established.
However, other provisions could result in a more substantial change and impact for financial entities, and include the following obligations.
Minimum quality standards
- Businesses should always allow complaints and inquiries to be filed through the same channel through which the contractual relationship was initiated.
- Where a complaint or request is made over the telephone or electronically, companies must ensure personalized service if the consumer or user so requests. By personalized service, we mean that offered directly through a human operator or a commercial agent who answers in real time and who must identify himself at the start of the conversation.
- The use of autoresponders or similar as the sole means of customer service is prohibited.. In this regard, if the customer is not satisfied with the (automated) service received, he can request that the call be transferred to a human supervisor, who must answer the customer during the same call.
- Personnel who provide personalized customer service or who design the automated means that can be used for this purpose must have specialized training according to the sector or activity.
- In customer service provided by phone, it is forbidden to forward the customer to a “freephone” telephone number which may, in practice, entail a cost for the customer. With respect to telephone calls to persons with disabilities, said communication channel shall, at the choice of the individual, be supplemented by an alternative written messaging system or by a video system including sign language interpretation. In addition, in the event of a complaint or request by telephone, upon receipt of the call, the company must record it and inform the customer how he can access it.
- In the event of recourse to customer service by telephone, the maximum period which elapses between the reception of the call to customer service and the direct contact of the customer with the operator or the sales agent in charge of the personalized service is fixed. by regulation; therefore, it is not something that the company will be able to decide.
- Both the filing of the complaint or request and its resolution must be recorded on a durable medium. It must be delivered to the customer by the same means by which the communication was initiated.
- Under no circumstances may the processing of a complaint or an investigation be terminated due to expiry or prescription not attributable to the customer. The burden of proof in this regard lies with the company.
- Customer service hours must be established in accordance with business hours of operation, and for basic services of general interest, a 24-hour service must be provided every day of the year.
- Companies must establish and document a system to define the degree of customer satisfaction in terms of the treatment and professionalism of the staff providing the service.
- Companies to which this law applies must establish stable collaboration frameworks with the most representative consumer and user associations in terms of customer services.
Evaluation and audit systems
Companies must put in place evaluation systems to measure the quality of their services, which must be properly documented on a medium that guarantees its integrity and must allow inspections by the public administration.
In addition, companies must hire a company to carry out a annual audit verify the reliability and accuracy of reported measurements throughout the year.
Information on the evaluation and audit system must be published on the company’s website.
This client alert was issued on January 10, 2022 by the Madrid office of Baker McKenzie and should not be considered legal advice. For further information on the content of this Client Alert, please contact Paula De Biase (Partner, Financial Services Regulation) via [email protected].