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The angry view from a closed-life call centre

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Matt Worthington, a former call centre worker for a closed-life company, has a few things to get off his chest.

The CII has been throwing a lot of weight behind the concept of “professionalism” lately; both internally and externally. Last week’s Money Marketing article is just one example of their current lobbying for “a requirement for firms to demonstrate professionalism”.

I would like to add my own voice to the call for (delete as applicable) IFAs/financial planners/asset managers/wealth managers/money gurus/wealth creation consultants to demonstrate a greater degree of professionalism.

Now, I am not writing to you as a regulator, or a trade body, or a client, or even as a fellow IFA, but as a call centre operator for a large, closed-book life and pension provider. Every day I deal with an average of 70 calls; from clients, IFAs, solicitors, accountants, bank managers, tax inspectors, HR consultants, funeral directors, welfare benefits officers…the list goes on and on. And each caller will come on the line with a differing degree of financial awareness, and a differing degree of professionalism.

As you would imagine (and hope!) IFAs tend to score top in the financial awareness field. But consistently, and disappointingly, my colleagues and I find IFAs to be the least professional people we deal with.

Basic courtesy and politeness is a given from most callers, but all too often lacking from IFAs. And I’ve never been shouted at by a solicitor, but again, it is a common occurrence from IFAs. Same story for being sworn at or personally insulted. We would never expect an accountant or a bank manager to hurl abuse down the line like a drunk at a football match, but sadly we tend to anticipate it from IFAs.

I understand your frustrations, definitely. You’re kept on hold for ages (with some pretty dire hold music, I admit). You have to go through the same repetitive data protection routine over and over again. Then sometimes we can’t give you the information you need. Or we give you the wrong information. Or we tell you it’ll have to be sent in writing, which takes a few weeks. Plus postage.

As a company we’re not perfect, but what company is? And as call centre operators we’re obviously not going to have the same breadth and depth of experience and knowledge as you are. Otherwise we wouldn’t be call centre operators; we’d be IFAs. I know we are “the face of the company”, but please, show some respect to people trying to do their job as best they can.

Contrary to popular belief, we call centre operators aren’t actually responsible for setting HMRC’s trivial commutation rules. Nor do we have much say in when Royal Mail decide to deliver the quotes we posted to you. And surprising as it may be, if you decide to transfer your clients substantial funds to the far reaches of the globe, we don’t have the authority to “bypass that ridiculous anti-money laundering malarkey and chuck the cash over sharpish”.

Shouting and swearing at a minimum wage call centre operator because you feel that the “f***ing company is stealing my clients money”  will never get you a result.  On the other hand, “I’d like to discuss my concerns over the charging structure of your product” sounds much better, doesn’t it? And far more likely to get a half-decent factual response.

I’m pleased to say that I’m putting this behind me now. I am leaving the call centre for a small asset management firm, having (like most of my colleagues) studied for my first qualifications (PFS Diploma in Regulated Financial Planning, PFS Certificate in Financial Planning, CII Award in Financial Administration, and IMA Certificate in Money Advice Practice).

Anyway, rant over. Sincere apologies to the polite and professional IFAs out there - I have enjoyed speaking with you and dealing with your queries. No doubts I’ll share your call centre frustrations in the near future, but whatever I encounter, I wholly intend to maintain a polite and professional manner in all of my communications; not just those with fee-paying or prospective clients.

Matt Worthington


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Readers' comments (64)

  • Although I can agree with most of what you have said Matt, the point that I would make which does annoy IFAs is where providers admit they have made a mistake but then put the matter back to the start of their standard turnaround times and do not treat the matter as a priority.

    You must admit Matt that this would make you angry would it not?

    Also, service from providers is actually getting worse - longer timescales for responses to enquiries - I'm sorry but it is not acceptable for replies to take longer than 10 working days but, to quote AVIVA recently, you are looking at 15-20 days for replies.

    This is a provider issue - inexperienced staff put in Call Centres so experienced staff are not accessable.

    Also, do not blame Royal Mail for delaying post. If you send quotes/replies to enquiries out by second class post then that will take 2-3 days to be received so why do providers not use first class post!!

    The answer is..............PROFIT!

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  • Note to David Thomas

    Very good point and I felt guilty for a moment until I noted that my note was added om a Sunday afternoon.

    Note to everyone else. it's good to let off steam and i have read some very kindly and civilised commemts here. It is so important to have respect for decent hard working people QED. Matt's article has touchef so many people, most of whom want to be better people. Not written in work time.

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  • If anyone abuses our staff, I speak to the miscreant and tell them my staff are not paid to take that sort of behaviour: if they want to do that they must ask for me, as I own the firm and am free to give as good as I get.

    Dependent on the severity of the abuse, this is sometimes followed by a recorded delivery letter arriving the next day, saying we are off record as their advisers.

    When I worked for an insurer I had a branch manager who cancelled agencies in these circumstances. His staff would do anything for him and he was widely respected.

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  • I've read this with great interest as someone who has seen both sides, begining my career in a call centre environment, before moving into IFA administration / paraplanning. The vast majority of IFA's i would deal with were great. Efficient pleasent to deal with and on occasion, humerous. However there was a sizeable minority that were rude and obnoxious. Toward the end of by comms days, i was actually more qualified than many of the IFA's i served, yet still they would patronise (maybe to cover for some of their own technical inadequecies?) One of the more loathsome traits of a few were to pick on the vulnerable, i.e. new starters and the less knowledgable who genuinely wanted to help. (Come on, you're not going to get experts and experience for less than 15k)
    Still, good and bad in every industry i suppose, and it certainly gave me a thick skin!

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