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Book of quotations

Is it fair for a life office’s direct sales to undercut an IFA quote by half?

It is interesting to note that in an age in which customer service is paramount, and in which the FSA wants to encourage treating customers fairly, that some insurance companies are still living in a different era. Or perhaps it is more accurate to say some companies are barely surviving in the current era.

I want to share a couple of experiences with you which you may find of benefit.

Several years ago, we transferred agency of a Lincoln policy to ourselves, with clear written instructions from our client. The policy had originally been sold by a Lincoln tied agent, via City Financial. Over that time, apart from being locked in with onerous surrender penalties, all had been fine until last month’s anniversary statement. Bizarrely, this was sent to the ex-tied adviser who, to his credit, forwarded the letter to our client, informing her that he was no longer her adviser.

When we asked why the statement had been sent to the adviser, we were told by Lincoln that as we had not given them sufficient business (that is, none), it would exercise its discretion as to who should be appointed as the client’s servicing IFA, even though their selected IFA had no current relationship with the client. I can only presume that he continues to (somehow) support Lincoln, or that Lincoln tracks the movement of ex-advisers to reward them with what it believes are orphan clients.

This is the first I have heard about anything like this from any company, so please take my experience as a warning to any IFAs who have clients with Lincoln policies transferred to your agency – you had better start giving business to Lincoln pretty fast, even if it is bad advice.

In the meantime, I invite Lincoln to defend its position. What would the FSA think if our suitability letter to a new client stated: “We have to sell you a Lincoln policy, even though it is not appropriate for you, to retain servicing rights for our other clients”?

There must also be some client confidentiality and data protection issues here. Does Lincoln really think that ignoring a client’s written instructions is treating customers fairly?

Axa PPP also seems to have lost the plot. We were recently in competition for a decent-sized group PMI scheme against Axa’s direct-sales rep. I have no problem with that as I have always understood that such companies offer the same rate direct as through an IFA. In this instance, Axa quoted a direct rate that was almost half our quotation. When pushed for an explanation, our Axa IFA rep could not get anywhere close.

The Axa direct-sales rep clearly had the ear of the underwriter far better than the IFA support team. I accept that there may be some small difference between quotations, but not to the extent where my clients had to pay almost double.

Of course, we lost the case and the relationship with our client was damaged. You may argue that the client did not value our relationship but when you are tens of thousands of pounds apart, it is hard to justify.

So, the question to Axa is, who are you taking for a ride? If it is a loss-making premium to buy the business, then tell the client that is so, and that you will dramatically increase their premium in future. If you are deliberately running your business at a loss, then perhaps you should tell shareholders what you are doing. And, if this really is a profitable premium, then why are you ripping off the rest of your customers by asking them to pay double?

This is hardly treating customers fairly.

So, if you are paying a unit rate of more than 62 a month for a City-based company, band A, VIP level one, with chronic care included and medical history disregarded scheme with no excess, ask for a discount from Axa PPP. That premium rate is cheaper than most other companies’ fully underwritten schemes.

Treating customers fairly? That depends on who you are and what it’s worth.


Banks could be the losers

I promised last week, with some regret, that I would almost certainly be returning to the Pensions Commission report in this column for a third time in a row.


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