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Complaints data is meaningless out of context

30 March 2011

Statisticians will say that today's publication by the FSA of its half-yearly complaints data on firms provides a useful insight into firms' behaviours.

Apart from a few choice items (the percentage upheld seems rather revealing), I find the figures overwhelming in their volume and underwhelming in their utility.  The FSA's drive for transparency does not help if it involves mere publication of masses of data.

Much will be made in the press about specific firms suffering particularly high volumes of complaints and the banks which have received hundreds of thousands of complaints between them and make up the top 10 firms by total complaints.  However, without information about the particular firm, its business and its clients, I fail to see how the headline grabbing figures in themselves provide any meaningful insight for consumers or the regulated sector.

Without knowing more about the type of business conducted, the number and worth of clients, the type and value of products, or the particular problems experienced by those clients or products, one is left to conclude only that the biggest banks with the most customers receive the most complaints and the smallest firms with the fewest clients receive the least.

Until the FSA takes its transparency drive to the next level, the publication of complaints data appears to be little more than an exercise in passing on the data firms have to go to great expense to record and report about their complaints experience.