The most and least-complained about banks in SA

The Ombudsman for Banking Services (OBS) annual report shows that two banks saw increases of more than 30% in the number of formal complaints opened by its office. Standard Bank had 2070 cases opened, a 31.6% increase, while the number of Capitec cases grew by 31.1% to 1651.

After an improvement in 2020, Absa saw a 13% increase in cases (to 1 068), while the number of complaints opened against Nedbank was up 4% to 1 273.

Read: SA banks ‘remarkably healthy’ – GCR Ratings

Only one bank, FNB, saw a significant decrease in the number of cases opened at the ombud. These declined by 34% to 1 452.

Ombud Reana Steyn says this “dramatic decrease … can largely be attributed to the initiatives implemented by the bank’s CEO and staff to ensure that the bank aligns itself with the Treating Customers Fairly (TCF) principles and the requirements of the Conduct of Financial Institutions (COFI) Act”.

FNB “made a concerted effort, to look past the black letter of the law in respect of the merits of a complaint, and to apply considerations of fairness and reasonableness where the facts of the particular matter allowed for such considerations”.

Reana Steyn, Banking Services ombud. Image: Supplied

She adds: “Specific attention was also given to vulnerability of some customers and often settlements were made based on those considerations. This approach has certainly proven to be fruitful for the bank and has resulted in the reduced numbers that our office has seen.”

Listen/Read: How SA banks performed in 2021

Cases opened against Discovery Bank were down 27% to 55, while those against TymeBank increased nearly tenfold (from a very low base) to 233.

Steyn says it is not as simple as just looking at the number of cases opened against a bank, adding that this should not necessarily be regarded as an indication of that bank’s overall or complaints handling performance, as banks vary in size, client profile and product mix.

A primary factor is the number of customers at each bank. One way of comparing banks, albeit in a simplistic way, would be to calculate how many complaints the ombud receives for every 1 million customers that bank has. This arguably provides a more useful comparison, especially among the ‘big five’.

Number of customers Number of complaints Complaints per million customers
Standard Bank 10.179 million 2 070 203.36
Nedbank 6.5 million* 1 273 195.85
FNB 7.68 million (exc eWallet) 1 452 189.06
Absa 9.6 million 1 068 111.25
FNB 13.63 million (inc eWallet) 1 452 106.53
Capitec Bank 18 million 1 651 91.72
Discovery Bank 850 000 (accounts) 55 64.7
TymeBank 4.2 million (1.2m active) 233 55.5 (194.17 on active base)

* Moneyweb estimate

Note that these customer figures are generally for retail and business customers and in most cases exclude any commercial or corporate ones.

Adding in wallet-type accounts does distort the comparison somewhat – if eWallet customers were completely removed in FNB’s case, the number of complaints per million customers would be 189 (some banks do not disclose these figures separately and bundle in money transfer/wallet customers to their client numbers).

What this comparison does show is the gulf between the 100 and 200 case (per million customers) levels. On this basis, at least, Capitec in particular is doing incredibly well.


Says Steyn: “With fraud, the OBS has seen over the years that the fraudsters move from bank to bank targeting a certain group of consumers through phishing emails, vishing calls, etc. All these factors impact on the number of complaints made against any bank.”

Overall, the number of formal cases opened at the OBS in 2021 hit a new record of 8 257, up 7% (this is a 28% increase from pre-pandemic levels).

A total of 8 039 cases were finalised in the year and, on average, it took 47 business days to close each file.

The six categories with the largest number of complaints comprise 70% of all cases. Despite an improvement in 2020, internet banking reclaimed the top spot in 2021, with roughly one in five of all cases opened.

The top categories are:

  • Internet banking (19% of complaints)
  • Current accounts (16%)
  • Personal loans (11%)
  • Credit cards (9%)
  • Mortgage finance (8%)
  • Vehicle finance (8%)

Steyn says that in 73% of the matters resolved last year, findings were in favour of the banks (5 846 cases).

Banks were held wholly liable for the complainant’s claims in 16% (1 276) of 2021 complaints, and partially liable in 4.5% (363) of them.

“Of the matters concluded in favour of the complainants, over R19.4 million was awarded and offered because of the OBS’s direct intervention.”