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Are you being served?

It is hardly surprising that financial advisers continually cite product provider service as a key concern when you consider that many firms waste almost a day each week chasing basic information.

Provider service has a direct impact on advisers’ ability to run an efficient practice and deliver a professional service to clients.

It was requests for help from our members that led Sesame to set out in 2004 on a long-term campaign in the pursuit of higher service standards for our customers.

Our solution was the Sesame provider service index, which ranks providers and highlights opportunities for service improvements. The findings give us a strong basis on which to work with life and pension providers in a positive and constructive manner to help them improve service delivery to advisers.

There was a 49 per cent surge in the number of advisers who took part in our latest study, which clearly demonstrates the depth of feeling on this important issue and advisers’ desire to have their voices heard. It is an issue that resonates with every one of our members.

The Sesame provider service index targets four key areas of service identified as being most important to advisers:

  • Handling phone calls.

  • Ability to process and track new business.

  • Online systems and support.

  • Handling correspondence and issuing mailings.

    Of these four service areas, handling phone calls and processing new business are the two that advisers would most like to see improved. The individual issues that potentially have the most impact on the smooth running of adviser firms are:

  • The person answering the call taking ownership of the issue raised.

  • Accessing information quickly by phone.

  • Speaking to the person processing the case.

  • Quicker underwriting.

  • Single person to contact within the processing team.

    The good news is that we found respondents in our latest study were generally happier with the level of service offered by life and pension providers compared with similar studies in 2005 and 2007. Overall adviser satisfaction levels were up by 16 per cent on the last Sesame provider service index. Thirty-seven per cent of advisers polled said overall service was either good or exceptional compared with 32 per cent in the last study.

    Significantly, there was a 24 per cent drop in the number of advisers who thought overall service levels were either unacceptable or totally unacceptable from 25 per cent in the last index to 19 per cent this time.

    This latest increase in overall satisfaction levels makes very encouraging reading. However, when you consider that the number of advisers who believed that overall provider service was good in 2005 was a paltry 19 per cent, it is clear that there was considerable room for improvement.

    The overall increase in adviser satisfaction that we have seen in recent years also means that each provider has to work harder to stay ahead of the competition. However, we believe that the benefits make it worthwhile. Good service can be a key differentiator for providers and undoubtedly has a direct impact on how their brands are perceived by advisers.

    In recent years, there has been a trend among providers to set up dedicated service teams within their businesses, specifically to look after major clients. Of those advisers who have experienced dedicated service teams, 73 per cent rated the service as better or far superior than the service delivered by other providers without dedicated teams. This remains at the same level as a similar study carried out in 2007 although it is a significant improvement on our original quantitative research in 2005.

    Our latest study also found that the average time an adviser firm spends chasing and checking information from providers is edging up. Firms were spending an average of 5.4 hours a week chasing providers in early 2007 but this has crept up to 5.5 hours a week.

    As service improves, we can expect to see this figure drop. However, we need an open and frank dialogue with providers to help them see where improvements can be made and time saved.

    This latest research study marks another milestone in Sesame’s campaign to work with providers, on behalf of advisers, to help raise standards. We are committed to keeping provider service high on the industry’s agenda because in a tough economic and regulatory climate, it remains a core issue for advisers as they strive to run efficient businesses and deliver a professional service to their clients.

    Many of our members are small business owners and this issue has an even greater impact on them. After all, advisers who have to get directly involved in chasing and checking the progress of cases have less time to look after client needs. That is why it will continue to be on the agenda in our meetings with providers.

    Providers also have the opportunity to share their improvements and success stories, so that advisers are left in no doubt about the providers which are reaching for higher standards.

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