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Advisers slate providers over sluggish service on urgent client requests

Advisers are concerned providers show no flexibility in handling urgent cases related to legacy products, even those where clients are critically ill, instead sticking to processes that can lead to long waiting times for responses.

Advisers speaking to Money Marketing are resigned to the fact obtaining information on legacy products can be painfully slow.

Grosvenor Birch financial planner Elaine Birch explains a recent incident with Legal and General. She was unable to convince the provider to speed up its standard response time of 48 hours, even though her client had become suddenly, and very critically, ill.

Her efforts to obtain details on her client’s legacy pension were frustrated by the fact the standard route for advisers to contact Legal and General for client information is to email, not to call.

Poor life office service costs each IFA 8,000

Group IFA chief executive Phillip Rose tells Money Marketing he knows to expect a 57-working-day turnaround for information requests from one closed-book provider.

Magenta Financial Planning chief executive Julie Lord says there can be a three-week wait before some life companies will let advisers know they have received their request.

Such examples have led advisers to question why providers cannot facilitate a quicker turnaround when the situation is truly urgent.

In Birch’s case, to the relief of the client’s family, she finally did get somewhere on what she describes as a “very unusual” case where circumstances meant she needed to get information on a pension urgently.

However, she says this was only by circumventing the systems Legal and General have in place.

Birch says: “We have made progress but it is far from satisfactory and the guys we do manage to speak to at Legal and General are also saying it is far from satisfactory. The one route in is to speak to the protection reps because they are still engaged to liaise with IFAs.”

She adds: “They are getting approached by IFAs trying desperately to get things moving and trying the path of least resistance to get results for their clients.”

Birch says there are some alternative routes she is aware advisers can take, such as selecting the phone option for members.

Lord believes it is one of the major downfalls of large companies that they tend to paint themselves into procedural corners.

She says: “It is the same with all big companies. They have their processes there to streamline things, which is fine but every now and again you have to go around the processes to meet a need. If you do not have that flexibility in the system, frankly your company is screwed.

“I know some senior people at a life company and even they find it difficult to work around the processes they have instilled in the business.”

Lord thinks it is reasonable that advisers should be able to access all the information they need online.

She says: “You should be able to go on to their archive systems online and just find out the information you need with the appropriate password and security.”

Rose argues where life companies used to do the majority of the paperwork themselves, advisers now provide their administration services.

He sees it as unlikely Lord’s vision of an online system for legacy product data would be developed because he believes life companies will not spend any money on back office systems for their legacy businesses.

This is a common belief among advisers: that there is no real interest in investing in legacy business because it is unprofitable.

Money Marketing asked four life companies, including Legal and General, how they deal with urgent client requests and how they plan to improve services for IFAs.

Standard Life says it aims to answer calls from advisers within minutes and the average time to provide information on a pension is five days, and a life plan is 10 days. Standard Life says it does have a process in place for urgent enquiries where it aims to respond on the same day and not beyond 48 hours.

On improving the service, a Standard Life spokeswoman says: “We have the same approach and commitment to supporting advisers and their clients who have legacy products as we do all our other products. Our focus is on service excellence and helping them achieve a good outcome.”

Aviva says it has a team in place to respond to advisers’ urgent requests. It would not give fixed time frames on how quickly it aims to respond to these but says the team deals with urgent client requests as soon as possible.

Aviva customer engagement director Caroline Dibbs says when it comes to pension transfer values for legacy policies, one of the most common requests in this area, the company can act fairly quickly.

She says: “When advisers telephone us for a pension transfer value request in respect of older, so-called legacy, pension products, we’re able to resolve approximately half of these enquiries on the first call. Our aim is to get the information to advisers as quickly as possible while ensuring the quality of information is not sacrificed for speed.

“Some of our legacy pension values may require a manual calculation, and could take a little longer to produce.”

Phoenix Group, which bought Standard Life’s insurance business earlier this year, says it has a wealth of information on its website about all its legacy companies and how to locate legacy policies.
It tries to answer calls within 20 seconds and most simple queries can be answered on that call.

Phoenix classes clients, such as the one Birch refers to, as vulnerable customers and works with advisers and policyholders to prioritise such cases in terms of ensuring paperwork and payments are dealt with as a high priority. Again, it would not give a concrete time frame within which it aims to respond.

A Phoenix spokesman says the company is working to make more services able to be carried out online.

Legal and General, at the time of publishing, had not responded to a request for information.

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Comments

There are 7 comments at the moment, we would love to hear your opinion too.

  1. Asked for an L&G illustration for a transfer into an active members GPP in July.

    Seemingly the concept of a pre-sale charges illustration is beyond them (and seemingly alien to them). Especially when you want particular funds listed and the costs of those funds detailed.

    This is the third case we’ve struggled with over the last 12 months – each showing similar characteristics.

    1 formal complaint later, we’re still awaiting on it.

    IDD/Mifid 2/cost disclosure anyone?

  2. This is one of the biggest threats to advisers (i.e. planners) – the dire service from providers. 10 working days to handle requests for information, ignorant staff on telephone lines giving crass information which is often wrong, unwillingness to provide simple basic forms such as adding or removing trustees and a belief that their website can do what is being replaced when they get rid of telephone lines…. On the one hand we need to chase things to avoid a complaint from the client, on the other hand if we chase we can add £100 to the client’s bill! FCA seems very keen on platform costs and charges but the real killer as far as client costs go is actually poor service from the likes of Aviva, L&G etc.

  3. “Legal and General, at the time of publishing, had not responded to a request for information.”

    *titter*

    Advisers should be making a formal complaint to L&G every time they ring them and L&G refuse to speak to them, in direct contradiction to the client’s explicit instruction to release information to the adviser. Eventually L&G would be forced to cave in on their anti-IFA policy.

    Of course I don’t practice what I preach, because we have no policies with L&G other than a handful of legacy ones. For exactly this reason.

  4. ‘Twas ever thus, especially with L&G.

  5. and this is news?
    Foresters refuse to send information directly to IFAs and insist on sending two copies to their client, hoping for inertia?

  6. It’s up to advisers to bill Legal & General (or whatever company) for their time.

    Now that we have to charge clients for the work we do, on their behalf, if this work is solely because of a provider’s error (or refusal to provide information on time) we can justifiably say that it is unfair for us to bill the customer because of the provider’s mistake or poor administration. So we must bill the company. They can’t argue with that and, in my experience they don’t, as they can’t deny the logic.

    The networks (and any adviser body that still exists) should also be raising this constantly with the FCA. Treating Customers Fairly does not mean landing clients with huge adviser fees due to third party ineptitude.

    • Some do, even to the point of brazenly lying to the FOS, as did L&G on an annuity case a few years back. Worse still, the FOS just accepted L&G’s lie without challenge and rejected my complaint.

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