Graphics: IRZ
Graphics: IRZ

On 31 March 2021, IRZ organised an exchange of experiences on consumer protection in the banking sector in Tunisia and Germany. The online event was aimed at representatives of the Tunisian Ministry of Justice, the Consumer Protection Organisation, the Central Bank of Tunisia and the Professional Association of Banks and Financial Institutions. A number of judges and lawyers also took part in the exchange of experiences. The event took place as part of the current working programme on legal cooperation between the German Federal Ministry of Justice and Consumer Protection and the Tunisian Ministry of Justice.

Representing IRZ was Jochen Robert Elsen, Deputy Director of the International Division at the German Federal Financial Supervisory Authority (BaFin). The following took part on behalf of the Tunisian project partners:

  • Imed Derouiche, Public Prosecutor General in Tunisia and Head of the Judicial Service at the Tunisian Ministry of Justice
  • Badii Ben Abbes, Presiding Judge
  • Akrem Barouni, Vice-President of the Tunisian Consumer Protection Organisation (ODC)
  • Raja Gharbi, Head of Communications and Strategic Affairs at the Tunisian Professional Association of Banks and Financial Institutions (APTBEF)
  • Abdellatif Ben Heddia, President at the Tunisian Financial Services Supervisory Authority (OTSF)
  • Hatem Rouatbi, a lawyer and professor in civil law and head of the research department for dispute resolution and enforcement at the University of Tunis El Manar, (ReLèVe)

The process for developing a legal framework for consumer protection has been accelerated in Tunisia over recent years. Advancing digitalisation and the increasing efforts of the state and the financial sector to provide more people with access to the services of formal bank and insurance systems through financial inclusion have also led to a shift in attention to abuse, disinformation and fraud. Until now, the Tunisian banking system and financial products on offer have not been sufficiently consumer-friendly and transparent. The network of consumer advice centres available in Tunisia is still inadequate.

The objective of the exchange of experiences, which marked the first in a series of events on the subject, was to bring more attention to the regulation of financial products in the banking sector in Tunisia and to establish any potential irregularities and the corresponding need for regulations.

The Tunisian partners reported on a requirement to extend consumer protection and the legal regulations that still need to be introduced in this respect (e.g. concerning services in finance and insurance), and pointed out the need for voluntary commitments by banking and financial services providers in Tunisia. They also discussed the unreasonably high fees for financial services and the issue of risky loans exploiting consumers. Clear regulations and supervisory authorities are needed, which would also cover due diligence for banks and financial institutions.

The participants were particularly interested in the possibility of dispute resolution out of court by ombudspeople in the German banking and finance sector, which was presented by the German expert Jochen Robert Elsen. According to the participants, it would also be desirable to set up this kind of arbitration body in Tunisia, especially as consumers are already provided with opportunities for mediation by financial services providers.

The online event was very well attended, with more than 40 participants. Discussions were animated and the participants expressed the desire to continue the dialogue with a follow-up event.

IRZ will therefore continue to develop the cooperation together with the partners mentioned above and to intensify the expert discussions with a view to more transparent and consumer-friendly financial inclusion.