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Ahead of the pack

Three companies have managed to achieve our highest triple e rating for income drawdown products. Scottish Equitable, Scottish Widows and Skandia all scored significantly ahead of the competition when it came to delivering the services that our adviser panel indicated were most important.

Having said this, it became apparent in the course of the research that income drawdown is an area where many major firms feel there is considerable scope for providers to extend the e-services they currently offer for this product.

It was also clear from our consultation with advisers that many firms expect to see a significant increase in the volume of this type of plan transacted post A-Day so there could be considerable benefits for those life offices who do get their income drawdown e-commerce proposition right.

The advisers identified further services that they consider important in pre-sales, sales and post- sales operations. Perhaps because of the complexity of the product, there has been limited e-commerce development. The study identified several areas where even those providers who achieved the highest ratings could significantly enhance their offerings.

In a depolarised, menu-driven world where more than ever advisers costs are under scrutiny, our adviser panel made it clear that those providers who can put in place the capability to meet the full range of adviser needs will be well placed to attract significant market share.

While the launch of new services was seen as important, it was also made clear that providers needed to demonstrate the ability to support legacy cases as well. Any provider developing services for new business while at the same time giving a less than satisfactory service for existing cases is unlikely to see a increase in business and are clearly risking de-selection from new business panels.

Quotations are a further area where several advisers expressed considerable dissatisfaction. There was a strong preference for income drawdown quotation facilities to be made available online to advisers as they believe that the complexity of the product leads to far higher error rates in quotations supplied by providers where the original request has been by phone.

This offers the opportunity to improve service but also for providers to achieve significant savings by removing the need to provide such documen-tation though branches or head office.

In a post-depolarisation environment, the need for strong external fund links was also popular. Indeed, some felt it was a pre-requisite for firms wishing to clearly demonstrate their independence to consumers.

Advisers commented that they had experienced deteriorating levels of service where product providers had employed external parties to manage their income drawdown propositions and there was a strong feeling that such outsourcing was a retrograde step. It was also observed that a number of major advisers operating own Sipp platforms may use this for income drawdown as some believe they can maintain better service in-house than they receive from traditional providers.

Some advisers stated that they had had problems with digital certificates as an access mechanism for a provider’s extranets and it was observed that digital certificates can be excellent when they work properly. This reinforces my existing view that providers are likely to see higher adoption of their e-commerce services if they allow adviser the option to use ID and password mechanisms or Unipass rather than mandating Unipass as a solution.

The importance of application tracking was the subject of considerable debate during our workshops with advisers. There was very strong view that this is one of the most important elements of a provider’s income drawdown service. Advisers made it clear that failing to keep the adviser fully informed on the progress of the transfers in to drawdown arrangements was a common flaw.

Those life companies which actively engage in chasing the ceding providers are putting themselves at a distinct advantage. However, it is essential that any changes in the status be notified to the adviser as soon as they take place. This was particularly thought to be a problem when the adviser is carrying out a consolidation exercise for the client moving lump sums from several separate sources into a single income drawdown arrangement.

It was clear that any tracking service must fully reflect all the elements of a transfer transaction. Any service which was less than exhaustive might be viewed as superficial widow dressing rather than a genuine effort to improve service to advisers.

Electronic tracking was seen as the obvious way of delivering this, with a strong preference for services that push details of changes out to advisers client management systems as son as they happen.

This is not the first time that such preferences have been exhibited during our e-excellence workshops and it must be rather worrying that this diametrically conflicts with the way that the new Origo industry standard tracking process has been defined and is being implemented.

A number of advisers expressed surprise that in the 21st Century no process has yet been put in place to facilitate the more effective transfer of money between different pension providers. Use of cheques for this purpose was felt to be a particularly problem, not least as it could frequently mean that amounts would arrive without the income drawdown provider having sufficient information for the funds to be allocated to the correct account, leading to considerable frustration for all concerned.

While the need to deliver statements to clients on paper was recognised, delivering large numbers of paper annual statements to advisers was recognised as highly inefficient. Advisers felt it would be preferable for electronic versions of such documents to be delivered to them. These could be provided as PDF files so the adviser had a graphical representation of what had been sent to the client to keep in their client management system but should also be accompanied by an electronic download such as a CSV file or XML message that could be imported to the advisers database for the purpose of producing the advisers own aggregated statements for the client.

As ever, limited space precludes me from covering many of the other issues that were raised during our workshops and many of the conclusions from the research.

However, hopefully, the above gives a good indication of just a few of the issues that need to be addressed by those income drawdown providers who wish to fully capitalise on the oppor-tunity that the post- A-Day market will deliver.

More information on the income drawdown e-excellence survey and its contents can be found at http://www.ftrc.co.uk/ research/document_ incomedraw.asp.

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