TCF gives the whole industry the opportunity to look at its products, its service and its interactions with customers and to work to ensure that the wider public are left in no doubt about the quality of customer care provided.
Customers do not always differentiate between the vast majority of the good and the small minority of the bad. To them, we are all part of the same team. Nor, for that matter, do they always distinguish between providers and IFAs. We all need to work together to make sure our customer care is fair and is seen to be fair.
So what does TCF mean for us all? There are probably five main strands:
Product development – products should be designed with particular customer needs in mind. We need to understand target customers and who products are suitable for and who they are not.
Marketing – literature to be clear, jargon-free and not misleading. It should enable customers to understand risks as well as benefits.
Sales – staff must understand risks of each product. The process must explain the nature of the contract and any risks involved, clearly and without bias. There should be checks to ensure that customers understand risks.
Ongoing servicing – proactively providing customers with clear and fair information on their policies. Keeping them informed when changes in the environment may affect the suitability of their product.
Complaints' handling – making it easy for customers to complain. Dealing with any complaint fairly. Evaluating causes of complaints and learning from that in the other four strands above.
The first two areas are clearly the responsibility of insurance companies but the last three must be jointly owned by companies and intermediaries and we must act together.
Collective and proactive action will help to ensure that in future there are no “misselling” issues. These expensive and damaging experiences should alert us to the need to build into our customer care an ongoing review of risk.
We must recognise when changes occur and ensure our customers are kept informed to help them seek advice and be aware of any impact.
Friends Provident supports the ABI Raising Standards initiative, applying it to our new products and our whole portfolio. Statements are clearer and provide much better information to customers.
At Friends Provident, we began to institute a major overhaul of customer service three years ago and it is now bearing fruit in terms of favourable IFA and customer response. I must confess that one reason for the overhaul was that our previously good service had slipped a bit.
IFAs called us to task. We listened. And we made big improvements. We have also worked to improve the way that we deal with complaints.
As an industry, we still have some way to go in putting in place all the building blocks of the sort of customer care and fairness which the FSA has in mind. The more we can make this a collaborative, industry-wide effort, the quicker we will restore customer trust and consumer confidence.