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New code coming

Authorities are contemplating the introduction of a new code of conduct to govern the way commercial banks and credit unions in Barbados do business.

And if the Barbados Code of Conduct — Banking Services, now in draft, is implemented, it would change the way these financial institutions relate to customers, including two months’ prior notification of contractual obligations, no imposition of “hidden charges”, and enabling agencies including the Office of Public Counsel and Fair Trading Commission to be the final arbiters in customer disputes.

But the proposed measure would not be mandatory, as the code seeks to establish “minimum voluntary standards of conduct for financial institutions and setting best practices to be followed in their relationships with

existing as well as potential customers”. The new draft code, which is now being circulated

for public discussion, was partly prepared by the Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs, and resulted from a regional project funded by the Inter- American Development Bank.

“Financial institutions will promote an environment in which existing and potential customers make better informed decisions in acquiring banking and financial services by ensuring effective disclosure of information,” a section of the proposed code stated.

“Financial institutions will ensure that all documents used in relation to the provision of financial services, including contracts, are drafted unambiguously and in plain language, without legalese or technical jargon. Financial Institutions will also ensure that contracts

do not contain unfair contract terms as defined in the Consumer Protection Act Cap. 326D.

“Financial institutions will also ensure that employees and agents who are authorised to give advice on the financial services offered are properly trained to competently, knowledgeably, efficiently and accurately render such advice.

“Where necessary, financial institutions will also refer existing and potential customers to external sources of independent advice, such as any applicable governmental authorities or an attorney-at-law,” it added.

Once the banks and credit unions accepted the code they will be required to “establish an internal process for handling disputes with customers other than those that are resolved to the customer’s satisfaction at the time

they are drawn to the financial institution’s attention”, a process that would be free of charge to the customer.

Additionally, they will be required to “identify a senior officer … who is responsible for the implementation of this Code of Conduct and ensuring that [it] is followed by their employees and authorised agents at all branches of the financial institutions”.

Those financial institutions which agreed to adopt the code will also be agreeing to a maximum three year review to be conducted in consultation with the Barbados Bankers Association, Barbados Cooperative & Credit Union League Ltd; Office of Public Counsel, Fair Trading Commission “and any other applicable governmental authorities; non-governmental consumer organisations; and any other interested stakeholders”.

shawncumberbatch@barbadostoday. bb

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