It is now 20 years since I joined a well known life company to service part of its somewhat orphaned client bank. This was during the depth of the last recession. Even though it was a tough time, the customers I contacted were typically very polite and sometimes even welcoming of the opportunity to talk to someone about policies they had or, better still, might need.
At that time, prospecting meant largely calling out in the evenings during the week to set up the following week’s diary. I even knocked on doors back then to obtain contact numbers where they were missing and introduce myself to policyholders. Unless I have a rose-tinted memory, I do not remember being treated with suspicion or disdain.
It strikes me how much has changed between now and 20 years ago. Accepting that many parts of the financial services sector and advisers in particular are well liked, something is wrong. Since 1991, we have seen many things in our industry that have led to a high level of mistrust and suspicion over time. The news regarding payment protection insurance and alleged misselling by certain institutions will not have helped.
Since 2007, I am pleased to see intermediaries have held strong in the mortgage market. The sector fell by some 65 per cent and although we have lost many along the way, intermediary share of lending has held strong as the dominant force over direct.
That tells us quite a bit. Now more than ever, with increased qualifications and new regulation, advisers have the chance to position themselves at the top of the tree in the eyes of consumers. Many advisers now offer a high-class service to customers, in whichever discipline they specialise in.
If we can successfully embrace technology and a changing world in terms of how customers want to transact, as well as gaining the relevant qualifications and embracing regulation, surely the time will be right for customers to finally view financial advisers as professional and regard the industry without suspicion. From that point on, we should probably be entering a new – and better – world.
Ben Thompson is director of mortgages at Legal & General