by Tom Sims and Marta Orosz

FRANKFURT (Reuters) – Consumer complaints against banks and other financial companies in Germany rose significantly last year, official data showed, as regulators worked to bolster confidence in the sector.

BaFin, the German financial market supervisory authority, received 15,000 consumer complaints in 2022 compared to 12,500 in 2021, the fourth consecutive year of a sharp increase in complaints against the banking and financial sector as measures to protect customers in Europe’s biggest economy have been tough since the Wirecard scandal.

According to the authorities, bankers and consumer protection organisations, the complaints relate in particular to the long processing times recorded for closing accounts, changes to the general conditions of the sector and the reduction in the number of bank branches.

The data, first published by Reuters, will be made public in an annual report due in May.

“You can’t say that financial institutions are behaving well because they mistreat their customers,” BaFin official Chan-Jae Yoo said in an interview with Reuters.

Deutsche Kreditwirtschaft, an organization that defends the interests of German finance, said German banks were “extremely stable and robust” and that confidence remained “high” and “unaffected” by the recent turmoil linked to the woes of banks in the United States and Switzerland.

A YouGov survey last year, however, showed that the level of trust in the German financial sector, essential for promoting financial stability and attracting capital to support economic growth, was below average. world. In terms of confidence, Germany is thus behind Canada, Australia and the main Asian markets.

“The simple fact that consumers are increasingly asking us for advice proves that they do not fully trust financial institutions”, accuses for his part Niels Nauhauser, in charge of consumer protection in the state of Baden-Württemberg. (South West).

A study by the audit firm EY, carried out this year, shows that 25% of people polled in Germany trust financial companies, 31% do not trust them, while 44% have taken no position for any of both situations.

“As in any industry that offers mass services, there are cases where there are differences of opinion between the customer and the bank,” Deutsche Kreditwirtschaft said, pointing to its own figures which show a decline in consumer complaints last year, contrary to BaFin data.

Since the Wirecard scandal, the safeguards and customer rights of financial institutions have come under increased scrutiny from German regulators and courts.

BaFin, whose management was reshuffled for failing to detect fraud at Wirecard, last year shortened the deadline, which could take weeks, for brokerage firms to process account transfer requests, which which left customers in limbo and at the mercy of market fluctuations.

A landmark German High Court ruling in 2021 also made it harder for banks to change their terms and conditions, reversing a practice that for decades allowed banks to raise fees without the explicit consent of savers.

Bankers believe that this decision has increased their costs and increased bureaucracy.

In Stuttgart, Niels Nauhauser managed this year to obtain compromises from the divisions of Deutsche Bank and Commerzbank and now intends to attack Allianz, whose modified life insurance contracts are considered to be not very transparent.

A hearing is scheduled for this month in a court in Stuttgart. Asked, Allianz said “to stick to all its contractual commitments and all its guarantees”.

( Claude Chendjou, edited by Kate Entringer)

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