Ombudsman Policy Statement
Section 309 of the Riegle Community Development and Regulatory Improvement Act of 1994, 12 U.S.C. 4806, requires each of the Federal banking agencies to appoint an Ombudsman. Section 309 provides that the Ombudsman:
- Is to act as a liaison between the agency and any affected person with respect to any problem such party may have in dealing with the agency resulting from the regulatory activities of the agency; and
- Is to assure that safeguards exist to encourage complainants to come forward and preserve confidentiality.
Mission of the Ombudsman
The Ombudsman is charged with performing three major functions: (1) serving as a facilitator and moderator for the fair and timely resolution of complaints related to the Federal Reserve System's regulatory activities; (2) reporting to the Board on issues that are likely to have a significant impact on the Federal Reserve System's missions, activities, or reputation that arise from the Ombudsman's review of complaints, such as patterns of issues that occur in multiple complaints; and (3) receiving, reviewing, and deciding claims of retaliatory conduct by Federal Reserve System staff. The Ombudsman also serves as the initial recipient for appeals of material supervisory determinations and plays a role in resolving appeals of some consumer complaints. In addition, the Ombudsman ensures that safeguards exist to encourage complainants to come forward and to protect confidentiality.
Serving as a Complaint Facilitator
The Ombudsman assists institutions with issues and questions related to Reserve Bank or Board regulatory activities. In doing so, the Ombudsman shall operate independently of the supervisory process to the extent necessary to ensure that appropriate safeguards exist to encourage complainants to come forward and preserve confidentiality.
In situations where the Board has not established a process for addressing a certain type of question or complaint, the Ombudsman is available to facilitate the resolution of the question or complaint. Although the Ombudsman does not have decision-making authority regarding any substantive matters, including supervisory determinations and regulatory action (other than for retaliation claims), the Ombudsman is available to assist institutions, and particularly community banks, in locating the correct Federal Reserve System staff person to address or resolve such a question or complaint and may coordinate meetings and facilitate discussions between the institution and System staff, including senior officials, as necessary. In order to facilitate this process, the Ombudsman may investigate the situation in order to identify the relevant facts and circumstances. The Ombudsman may also participate in meetings or discussions related to the matter if requested by either the institution or System staff, and may require updates from System staff, as appropriate, until the matter is resolved. If the Ombudsman believes such a complaint has not been satisfactorily addressed, the Ombudsman may raise the matter with the appropriate division director or Board committee, as appropriate.
When an issue is brought to the attention of the Ombudsman for which the Board's rules or procedures provide an avenue of appeal or another appropriate forum for resolution, the Ombudsman will explain the process to the complaining party, and direct the party to the appropriate appeals process or forum for the complaint.1 In addition, the Ombudsman is also available to facilitate informal discussions between a potential appellant and the appropriate Reserve Bank or Board staff in order to explore solutions before an appeal is filed. Such discussions do not stay or otherwise alter any of the deadlines under the Board's rules or procedures. The Ombudsman will serve as the initial recipient for an appeal of a material supervisory determination and may attend, as an observer, meetings or deliberations relating to the appeal if requested by either the institution or System personnel. In any event, the Ombudsman will not have any substantive involvement in or act as a decision-maker with respect to the appeal.
Providing Feedback on Patterns of Issues
The Ombudsman is in a unique position to identify and report patterns of issues arising from complaints related to Reserve Bank or Board regulatory activities. The Ombudsman will track inquiries and complaints based on relevant characteristics, such as geographic location, scope, policy implications, and final disposition, to help identify any such trends, including trends that implicate differently sized institutions disproportionately. This tracking will be conducted in a manner designed to preserve confidentiality of the complainant to the maximum extent possible. As appropriate, the Ombudsman will report findings of patterns of issues to the appropriate Board committee or division director and Reserve Bank or Board staff. The Ombudsman will also report any issue stemming from a complaint that is likely to have a significant impact on the Federal Reserve System's mission, activities, or reputation.
Retaliation Claims by Supervised Persons
The Board does not tolerate retaliation by Federal Reserve System staff against a supervised institution or its employees ("supervised persons"). Retaliation is defined as any action or decision by Reserve Bank or Board staff that causes a supervised person to be treated differently or more harshly than other similarly situated institutions because the supervised person attempted to resolve a complaint by filing an appeal of a material supervisory determination or utilized any other Board mechanisms for resolving complaints. Retaliation includes, but is not limited to, delaying or denying action that might benefit a supervised person without a sound supervisory reason or subjecting a supervised institution to heightened examination standards without a sound supervisory reason.
The Ombudsman is authorized to receive, review, and determine the merits of complaints of retaliatory conduct by Reserve Bank or Board staff. The Ombudsman may attempt to resolve retaliation claims informally by engaging in discussions with the concerned supervised person and the appropriate Board or Reserve Bank staff. If a complaint cannot be resolved informally, the Ombudsman may initiate a full investigation into the underlying facts and circumstances.
To commence a factual investigation of a complaint of retaliatory conduct, the Ombudsman should provide written notice to the appropriate Board committee and division director and the appropriate Reserve Bank officer in charge of supervision. As part of the investigation, the Ombudsman may, among other things, collect and review documents, interview witnesses, and seek any other relevant information. The Ombudsman may also consult Board and Reserve Bank staff with subject matter expertise. Where necessary, the appropriate Board committee or division director may authorize or assign such additional resources as may be needed to assist the Ombudsman in fully reviewing the matter.
Upon completion of the factual investigation of a complaint of retaliatory conduct, the Ombudsman will decide whether a member of Federal Reserve System staff retaliated, as defined above. The Ombudsman will report this determination to the appropriate Board committee or Governor and division director and the appropriate Reserve Bank officer in charge of supervision and may make recommendations for resolution of the matter to those parties. In addition, to prevent future retaliation for an appeal, the Ombudsman may recommend to the appropriate division director(s) that the next examination of the institution or review that may lead to a material supervisory determination exclude personnel involved in the claim of retaliation. The division director(s) will make the final decision as to whether any examination staff should be excluded. However, the Ombudsman shall not make recommendations regarding disciplinary action against a Federal Reserve System staff member. The appropriate staff will consider further action consistent with the Board's and relevant Reserve Bank's policies and procedures. The Ombudsman's determination regarding retaliation will be communicated in writing to the supervised person.
To further ensure that supervised persons are not subjected to retaliation, as defined above, the Ombudsman will contact a supervised institution within six months after an appeal has been decided to inquire whether the institution believes retaliation occurred. Where possible, the Ombudsman will also contact the institution after the next examination following an appeal. In the event an institution complains of retaliation, the Ombudsman will initiate the process outlined above to informally review the matter or initiate a factual investigation.
Consumer Complaints and Appeals
Independent of the Ombudsman function, the Federal Reserve System operates a consumer complaint and inquiry program to assist members of the public who are experiencing problems with their financial institution. If the Ombudsman receives a consumer complaint directly, the Ombudsman will refer the complaint to the Board's Division of Consumer and Community Affairs ("DCCA") to determine handling and send appropriate consumer complaints to the Federal Reserve Consumer Help Center ("FRCH") for processing.
A request for an independent review of a consumer complaint previously investigated by a Reserve Bank is treated as an appeal. Consumers should be advised that they can file an appeal through FRCH or with the Ombudsman if the consumer requests confidential treatment of the appeal or prefers that the Ombudsman handle the appeal.
If an appeal is received by the Ombudsman, he or she will consult with DCCA to determine who will handle the appeal, unless the consumer has requested confidential treatment or that the Ombudsman's Office handle the appeal. In many instances, DCCA will be responsible for investigating and responding to the appeal. For the appeals referred to DCCA by the Ombudsman, DCCA will consult with the Ombudsman during the appeal investigation to help ensure that the matter is fully and fairly addressed and provide a final copy of the response letter to the Ombudsman.
The Ombudsman handles appeals seeking further investigation of DCCA's handling of an initial appeal, appeals where the consumer requests confidential treatment, and appeals where the consumer requests that the Ombudsman's Office handle the initial appeal. The Ombudsman may handle other appeals, as determined in collaboration with DCCA. The Ombudsman will send an acknowledgement letter for each appeal it receives.
With respect to appeals seeking further investigation of DCCA's handling of an initial appeal or where the consumer requests that the Ombudsman handle the appeal, the Ombudsman will typically consult with DCCA during the investigation.
For appeals where the consumer requests confidential treatment, the Ombudsman typically will not consult with DCCA during the investigation. For all appeals the Ombudsman handles, the Ombudsman will review the matter. In doing so, the Ombudsman will collect and review the complaint documents from DCCA and seek any other relevant information, unless confidential treatment is requested. The Ombudsman may also consult Board and Reserve Bank staff to discuss the details of the previous complaint investigations. The Ombudsman is responsible for responding to the complainant with its determination. As appropriate, the Ombudsman will contact the appropriate Board division director and Reserve Bank staff with feedback or concerns.
These policies, processes, and practices are intended as safeguards to encourage complainants to come forward with issues or complaints related to the Federal Reserve System's supervisory activities.
To the extent possible, the Ombudsman will honor requests to keep confidential the identity of a complaining party. It must be recognized, however, that it may not be possible for the Ombudsman to resolve certain complaints, including complaints of retaliation, if the Ombudsman cannot disclose the identity of the complaining party to other members of Federal Reserve staff.
A party may contact the Ombudsman at any time regarding concerns or issues resulting from the regulatory activities of the Board or the Reserve Banks by calling 1‑800-337-0429, by sending a fax to 202-530-6208, by writing to the Office of the Ombudsman, Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, Washington, D.C. 20551, or by sending an email to Ombudsman@frb.gov.
By order of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, effective April 1, 2020.
Secretary of the Board.
1. For example, the Ombudsman may explain some of the existing mechanisms for resolutions of complaints, such as: material supervisory determinations pursuant to section 309(a) of the Riegle Act; actions delegated to the Reserve Banks or Board staff pursuant to 12 CFR Part 265; prompt corrective action directives under section 38 of the FDI Act; denials or partial denials of Freedom of Information or Privacy Act requests; issuance of capital directives pursuant to 12 CFR 263.80-263.85; decisions with respect to applications; and matters within the jurisdiction of the Board's Inspector General or Federal or State investigatory or prosecutorial authorities. Return to text