The most complained-about banks in South Africa

The Ombudsman for Banking Services (OBS) has released its annual report for 2019, highlighting some of the biggest complaints South Africans have about the banking sector.

The report shows that during 2019, the OBS opened a total of 6,472 formal cases and closed 6,333 of the cases opened.

Reflecting market numbers, it’s unsurprising that the majority of complaints came from the so-called ‘big five’ banks – Standard Bank, Capitec, FNB, Absa and Nedbank – though there has been a shift in which banks were the most complained about.

Of the ‘top five’ banks, FNB had the most number of complaints opened against it (1,707). This is an increase from the 1,560 complaints it received in 2018.

It was followed by Absa, which ranked first in last year’s report, which saw 1,483 cases opened against it.  Standard Bank rounds up the top three with 1,127 cases opened.

Notably, complaints do not automatically prove fault on the part of the banks.

“What is important to note is that the number of files opened in 2019 per bank is not necessarily indicative of the individual bank’s performance or the way in which they treat customers and complaints,” said ombudsman Reana Steyn.

“Banks vary considerably in size, client profile and product mix and these factors all impact the number of complaints made against a bank.

“Most banks saw a decline in the number of cases opened at the OBS and we believe this is due mostly because of the efficient way in which matters were handled at the referral stage, thereeby negating the necessity to open a formal case.”

Steyn added that under the current economic conditions that the country finds itself in, there most probably will be an increase in the number of complaints and the role of the Ombudsman’s office will be more relevant than it has ever been in the past.

She reminded bank customers of the free, easily accessible alternative dispute resolution service offered by her office to all bank customers who have complaints that are not satisfactorily resolved by their banks, to lodge a complaint with her office.


Biggest complaints

Across all banking services, internet banking drew the most complaints, followed by credit cards, ATMs and current accounts.

The report shows that internet banking complaints accounted for 18% of total complaints received in 2019 – 4% less than the previous year.

The office closed 1,292 internet banking fraud cases for the year 2019. About 947 (73%) of these complaints were resolved in favour of the banks and 345 (23%) were in favour of the bank customers.

Like in previous years, these complaints related to fraud in the electronic banking space.

“Vishing, phishing and smishing, fraudulent sim swaps are still just as prevalent and some unsuspecting banking clients are still conned into unwittingly providing fraudsters with their personal banking details,” said Steyn.

“There is a need for continued consumer education and awareness when it comes to this type of fraud or any other fraud and the OBS is committed to assist the banking community in providing such education and awareness.”

Credit card complaints remained second on the list with an increase to 15% (12% in 2018) of the total complaints received in 2019.

A total of 904 credit card-related complaints were closed by the OBS. A total of 214 (24%) of these cases were resolved in favour of the bank customers while 690 (76%) were in favour of the banks.

The two issues most prevalent in this space were complaints related to card fraud and charge-back disputes due to online trading.

Personal finances 

Current account complaints accounted for 649 (12%) of the complaints received in 2019 (10% in 2018).

A total of 445 (65%) of these complaints were upheld in favour of the bank while 244 of the complaints were found in favour of the bank customers.

Personal loan complaints accounted for 666 complaints (11% in both 2019 and 2018), mortgage loan finance for 490 (8%) (10% in 2018), vehicle finance accounted for 462 (8%) of complaints (8% in 2018).

Debit orders accounted for 190 (3%) (the same percentage as in 2018) of cases received. There was an almost 50% split with about 48% of the debit order complaints found in favour of bank customers, according to Steyn.


As with the previous year, the bulk of the complaints opened by the OBS are from Gauteng at 44% (42% in 2018), followed by Western Cape, 15% (same as in 2018), and Kwa–Zulu Natal 13% (same as in 2018).

Most complaints from people under the age of 31 related to ATM fraud, Internet banking fraud and to car finance-related issues.

Most complaints received from those above the age of 31 but below the age of 40 related to personal loans, internet banking and ATM fraud.

“Although there is a slight drop from 2018 the OBS still recorded an alarming statistic of about 64.58% of the complainants being from people over the age of 40,” said Steyn.

“Internet banking fraud comprised most of their complaints followed by credit card and ATM fraud complaints.

“This is an indication that still more measures must be taken to educate this group about the do’s and don’ts when it comes to banking,” said Steyn.

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The most complained-about banks in South Africa