I assist elderly and disabled people with their financial complaints so I have a bit of experience with dealing with Customer Advocates (mostly from ANZ) and the various Ombudsmen.
In my experience the Customer Advocates aren’t much different from dealing with a normal ‘case manager’ type person from the bank’s hardship office. The Customer Advocate just tends to want to talk to you by phone more, asks more personal questions to get a handle on the levels of stress you’re in (I assume this is why) and tends to be a bit bossier in the ‘this is what we can give you but you have to do X in response’. They are almost always very nice, very lenient.
However, they’re not really useful. They can’t/don’t do any proper kind of investigation into your financial situation the way a Financial Counsellor would so you are just as at risk of agreeing to an ‘affordable sounding’ payment arrangement that is actually impossible. If they go straight for the ‘okay, you don’t have to make any payments at all for a while’ then they are literally doing nothing that the regular hardship department wouldn’t do - pausing repayments and hoping your income magically recovers.
I will say that they are a mile better than speaking to anyone in collections or billing. Maybe for some people who are anxious about contacting a bank when they’re in hardship (which is almost all of the people I help), they’re a great idea. They give the person the feeling that their job is to ‘hear your side’ (if not act truly on your behalf) and they’re trained differently from the normal people you might otherwise initially come into contact with. Also, if you’re a bit worried about your english ability or ability to form what it is you want, they could be very helpful. Just… they’re the most helpful when you go in with a solid idea of what you want to happen. Because at the end of the day, they don’t/won’t know your situation properly and sometimes what they offer might make you feel good but won’t solve anything.
Regarding FOS and TIO and all that - I’m surprised to see the dismissive attitude/bad experiences from other people here. My experiences have always been positive, often resulting in banks/telcos being penalised for bad behaviour and partial or full waivers/refunds being ordered etc. The banks aren’t their bosses, the banks are just forced to pay when FOS are called to make a decision (which is incentive for them to not let it get that far).
What I often see going wrong for people when they’re DIY-ing the FOS or TIO process is that they tend not to be very organised. They go at them with a belly full of fire but not many provable facts - hamstringing their own complaint. Lack of evidence is enough to get FOS/TIO to rule in the bank/telco’s favour. Also, sometimes, the reality is that even through the bank or telco has behaved completely terribly… they haven’t actually broken any laws, policies or guidelines.
To anyone who feels like FOS or TIO or all that lot are useless - I suggest you go see an experienced and genuinely ‘on your side’ advocate (mostly financial counsellors, sometimes specific disability or aged advocates) and get a handle on why your complaint failed and what would be needed for a more likely to succeed attempt (if it’s even possible).
A bank-owned ‘customer advocate’ would no WAY be allowed to ever point out where the bank has actually stuffed you (such as in the case of improper lending) or encourage you to take the matter further/explain what evidence you needed to gather for a successful complaint. So.
In summary: They’re useful to a point, in very specific circumstances, but still inferior to truly neutral outside advocates.