Customer protection and financial education

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The Bank of Italy protects the customers of banking and financial intermediaries using a number of diversified and integrated instruments:

  • it follows the production of legislation, both national (primary legislation) and international, and oversees the drawing up and updating of secondary legislation to protect the customers of banking and financial institutions;
  • it checks on compliance with the rules on conduct for banks and financial institutions, promoting transparency and fairness in customer relations;
  • it ensures that individual protection instruments are available;
  • it fosters the strengthening of economic and financial knowledge in the country through numerous financial education programmes.

This integrated protection system serves various purposes: it guarantees the necessary balance in information asymmetry that often characterizes an intermediary's relationships with its customers; it incentivates competition between operators and encourages the provision of services and products that are suitable for customers' needs; and it contributes to raising the general level of customers' trust in the system.

The function of customer protection and promotion of financial education is carried out by a dedicated Directorate General, at the Bank of Italy's head office in Rome, and also by branch offices across the country.

To guide the conduct of bank and financial institutions in their dealings with customers, the Bank of Italy supervises compliance with transparency rules. It carries out corrective action and requires institutions to respect the rules, it carries out off-site controls and on-site inspections, and exercises sanctioning and injunction powers in the event of infringements. It promotes respect for the rights and obligations of the parties in the provision of payment services.

The provision of effective instruments to facilitate the resolution of problems that may arise with banking institutions - and which can be directly activated by individual customers - is another important component of protection. Customers can send complaints to the Bank of Italy about conduct they consider to be irregular or unfair, or they can file a complaint with the Banking and Financial Ombudsman (ABF), an out-of-court dispute resolution system that is autonomous and independent of the Bank of Italy, which supports it at an organizational level.

The results of complaints filed with the ABF and the analysis of complaints submitted to the Bank of Italy enable the latter to identify specific customer protection needs, and enrich the information available to the supervisory authorities and contributing to decisions about controls, regulation and financial education.

Following the guidelines drawn up by the OECD and reiterated by the G20, the Bank of Italy promotes financial education schemes to improve citizens' economic and financial culture and their knowledge of self-defence mechanisms, so they can make informed financial choices in line with their needs, thus contributing to the formation of a more inclusive and efficient market.

The Bank of Italy reports on how these tasks are carried out on multiple fora and channels, including the Report on the Operations and Activities of the Bank of Italy; it provides useful information and indications on the portal Economics for all, and on the website of the Banking and Financial Ombudsman.

The Banking and Financial Ombudsman

The Banking and Financial Ombudsman (ABF) is an alternative dispute resolution system (ADR) that handles customer complaints about banks and other financial institutions.

The ABF is an impartial body that is independent of the Bank of Italy. It is represented throughout the country, with panels in Bari, Bologna, Milan, Naples, Palermo, Rome and Turin. It examines customers' complaints and decides who is in the right according to the law. It is a fast procedure with low costs.
The ABF has jurisdiction over disputes involving a banking or financial operation or service (e.g. current accounts, mortgages, personal loans and other financing agreements, including for the purchase of goods, payment cards, and Central Credit Register reports).

If, on the other hand, the dispute with the bank concerns the provision of investment services or activities (e.g. trading or placement of securities, investment advice, or asset management), it is possible to apply to the Financial Dispute Arbitrator (Arbitro per le Controversie Finanziarie - ACF), operating at Consob.

Until 1 October 2022, it is possible to apply to the ABF for a decision on disputes involving transactions, services or misconduct subsequent to January 2009. After 1 October 2022, the ABF will only be able to consider complaints regarding transactions, services or conduct that occurred up to six years prior to the filing of the complaint.

It is possible to apply to the ABF for:

  • the recognition of a sum of money up to €200,000;
  • the ascertainment of rights, duties and powers (e.g. the right to receive transparency documentation or to obtain the cancellation of a mortgage agreement after the mortgage loan has been paid in full) with no upper threshold to the amount.

The application may be made completely autonomously via the ABF's online Portal, where its progress can be followed.

Support activities for the ABF are carried out by the technical secretariats set up within the Bank of Italy's branches.

The ABF is part of the Fin-Net network set up by the European Commission and composed of European alternative dispute resolution bodies active in the banking, finance and insurance sectors. As the national competent authority for alternative dispute resolution systems, the Bank of Italy verifies that the ABF complies with the related legal requirements.

Further information

Complaints

One of the instruments provided by the Bank of Italy for the individual protection of customers of banks and financial institutions is the management of complaints.

Customers can submit a complaint to the Bank of Italy to report conduct that they consider to be irregular or unfair in the provision of banking and financial products, such as deposits, loans and payment services. Complaints can be filed by means of a guided process on the Bank's platform Online Services for the Public, which can be accessed from any electronic device in a secure manner.

When it receives a complaint, the Bank of Italy takes action through the Branch that is competent for the area concerned, which asks the financial intermediary to examine the complaint and respond to the customer. In this way, the Bank facilitates dialogue between the parties. It also replies directly to the applicant, to help them to clearly understand the problems raised. If another authority has competency for the complaint, the Bank of Italy will forward it to them if necessary and will also inform the applicant of this step.

The Bank cannot directly deal with the merits of contractual issues or business assessments on the entrepreneurial autonomy of institutions, nor can it disclose the results of investigations conducted or any supervisory initiatives that may have been initiated.

If customers want to obtain a decision on the dispute, they can apply to the ABF after they have made a complaint to the financial institution. They can also file a suit through the law courts in the usual way.

These complaints make an important contribution to the Bank's actions in the field of individual customer protection. The analysis of the complaints received and the information that they provide enable the Bank of Italy to identify specific customer protection needs, enriching the information available to the supervisory authorities and contributing to decisions on the action to be taken. The complaints may also highlight gaps in the legislation and aspects that can be improved, as well as issues that require an increased level of knowledge and awareness on the part of the users of banking and financial services to be achieved through financial education initiatives.

The Bank of Italy reports on the management of the complaints it receives in its Report on the Operations and Activities of the Bank of Italy, providing a general summary of the analyses conducted.

Further information

The Bank of Italy has started monitoring the complaints received from households and firms in relation to problems concerning access to the government measures for tackling the public health emergency.

Customers can contact the Bank of Italy's Help Desk by calling the toll-free number 800 196 969 if they have any problems accessing the financial support for households and firms and they can make complaints about their relationship with their own bank.

Financial education

The asymmetrical relationship between banks and customers can be rebalanced not only through public enforcement (behavioural and organizational obligations imposed on institutions) and private enforcement (individual protection instruments such as complaints and the ABF), but also by empowering the customers themselves, i.e. by strengthening the position of the weaker contracting party by improving financial knowledge and awareness.

The main objective of the Bank's financial education projects is to promote informed economic choices on the part of customers and to increase their financial well-being. This can also contribute to limiting the legal and reputational risks to financial institutions, increasing public trust in economic operators and stabilizing the system overall.

The Bank's financial education is aimed at both young people and adults.

Financial education for young people is mainly directed at school students (Progetto Scuola). Teachers make a valuable contribution by participating in special seminars held in Bank of Italy branches across the country so that they can then introduce the basic concepts of economics and finance by adapting lessons in their own subjects.

Large-scale awareness-raising campaigns and training activities for specific targets are aimed at adults, with a particular focus on disadvantaged or vulnerable groups. Financial education programmes for specific target groups are complemented by constant external communication.

The Bank of Italy's Financial Education portal Economics for Everyone provides an overview of all past and present projects and programmes and provides information and teaching materials for the general public on the subjects of economics and finance, using a wide array of multimedia tools.

These activities are fully integrated with the guidelines and aims of the OECD's International Network on Financial Education and, in Italy, of the Committee for the Planning and Coordination of Financial Education Activities, of which the Bank has been a member since it was established.

Through its work experience pathways for school students aimed at students in the last three years of high school, the Bank is helping raise awareness of its own functions by simulating work experiences.

Further information

Initiatives for schools

The Bank promotes financial education initiatives at schools and universities, liaising with the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Research and Universities and other external stakeholders. It also carries out quali-quantitative analyses on financial literacy.

The Progetto Scuola (Schools Project), launched as result of the Protocol signed between the Governor of the Bank of Italy and the Ministry of Education, involves children at all levels of school (primary and secondary levels I and II) throughout Italy. Teachers take part on a voluntary basis in training seminars organized by the Bank's branches and the teacher training activities benefit from specifically designed didactic tools. The activities provided for students follow the OECD guidelines and those drawn up by the national committee for financial education.

Initiatives for adults

Financial education for adults is intended for both the general public and for specific groups of people. Communication and awareness-raising campaigns are often held in October as part of the 'Financial Education Month', an initiative promoted by the Committee for the Planning and Coordination of Financial Education Activities. The projects intended for particular groups are carried out in collaboration with public and private sector organizations, which often have their own countrywide networks that coordinate with the Bank of Italy's branches and can reach a great number of people. Projects have been created for the employees of large firms, women, adults (mainly immigrants) studying at local adult education centres, older people attending the University of the Third Age, and micro-entrepreneurs.

Another important part of financial education for adults is the promotion of self-protection tools for banks' customers: the Bank of Italy prepares 'Simple Guides' to the main banking products (for example, mortgages, current accounts and consumer credit) that financial intermediaries are obliged to make available to customers, in accordance with current legislation.

The Bank of Italy's financial education portal, Economics for Everyone, which can also be accessed by the blind, the partially blind and the deaf, provides useful information on the main areas of personal finance management (Budgeting, Making Payments, Taking out Loans, Saving and Investing) and an introduction to the basics of economics.

Work experience pathways for schools (PCTOs)

The Bank offers this programme to students in the last three years of second-level secondary schools (high schools, technical institutes and vocational institutes) who meet Bank of Italy experts. For a few days, participants are guided and assisted through a simulated work experience that explains some of the Bank's functions, helps to develop the necessary transferable skills and may guide students' decisions in the future. Students with disabilities also take part in PCTOs and ad hoc didactic tools have been created for them.

Supervision for customer protection

The Bank of Italy promotes correct and transparent relations between banking and financial institutions and customers, based on clear and easy-to-understand information about banking, financial and payment products and services. A transparent and fair context makes it easier for customers to find the most suitable products in terms of characteristics and costs, and to make informed choices.

The Bank of Italy also oversees the correct application of the rules governing the rights and obligations connected with the performance and use of payment services and instruments. This encourages competition between operators, helps to improve services and influences the overall level of customer trust in the financial system, thereby ensuring it functions smoothly.

The competences assigned to the Bank of Italy regarding protection are based on a regulatory framework built on international principles and EU and national rules, and consist of regulatory functions and interventions that, together with its other supervisory purposes, aim to:

  • promote fair behaviour towards customers and ensure compliance with banking conduct rules;
  • reduce legal and reputational risks for banking and financial institutions and increase public trust in banking and financial operators;
  • contribute to the stability of the financial system as a whole.

The rules on the transparency of contractual conditions and fair relations with customers are applied to banking and financial products and services (for example, current accounts, deposits, loans and payment services) provided in Italy. Banks and financial institutions are obliged to ensure that customers' rights are respected for the entire duration of the contractual relationship by means of:

  • effective organizational safeguards and controls to ensure compliance with the rules on customer protection;
  • information that is clear, complete and easy to understand, regardless of the distribution channel used and which is calibrated according to the type of customer, including potential ones;
  • conduct based on fairness both in the placement phase and during the course of the relationship;
  • effective management of any complaints and disputes that may arise.

The Bank of Italy contributes to the work of international organizations on consumer protection; it issues secondary legislation on the aspects of its competences attributed by law; it verifies the compliance of banking and financial institutions with the rules on customer protection, through requests for information and documentation, interventions to solve problems found during controls, inspections at branches and directorates general, and monitoring websites; and it publishes guidelines, news and communications. If it finds irregularities or unfair conduct, the Bank of Italy can intervene by asking for corrective measures to be adopted at organizational level or regarding business practices, and by activating the administrative powers envisaged by the law, specifically:

  • ordering sums of money improperly received to be paid back to customers or, in more serious cases, suspending a financial intermediary's activities or adopting other injunctions;
  • imposing administrative sanctions in cases of significant infringements.
The Bank of Italy's regulatory and supervisory powers do not concern investment services and activities or the placement of financial products for investment purposes. Customers can also report unfair conduct or anomalies to the complaints offices of banks and financial institutions. If the complaint is not answered within 60 days or if the response is not satisfactory, the customer can contact the ABF, the organization for alternative dispute resolution that deals with customers' complaints. Furthermore, customers can submit a complaint to the Bank of Italy to report problems in their relationships with banks and financial institutions. Customers' reports provide additional information that is useful for the Bank's supervisory work.

Further information

Related Topics

Appeal to the Banking and Financial Ombudsman

The Banking and Financial Ombudsman (ABF) is an alternative dispute resolution system for customer complaints about banks and other financial intermediaries. There are seven regional boards, located in Bari, Bologna, Milan, Naples, Palermo, Rome and Turin.

Submitting complaints

By submitting a complaint to the Bank of Italy, the customer can report behaviours on the part of banks and financial intermediaries that they deem to be irregular or wrong or irregularities in the information held in the Central Credit Register (CR) or in the Interbank Register of Bad Cheques and Payment Cards (CAI).

Banking and financial supervision

The Bank of Italy's supervisory functions in the banking and financial sectors extend to banks and non-bank financial intermediaries listed in the relevant registers. Since November 2014 bank supervision has been conducted within the context of the Single Supervisory Mechanism.