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‘Hard to get hold of’ and ‘changing too often’: why are advisers frustrated with their BDMs?

Survey sheds light on what advisers want from provider representatives

Advisers continue to be frustrated about access to business development managers at leading providers, despite visits happening on a more regular basis.

The latest BDM Quality Census from recruitment consultancy BWD shows there has been a significant jump in the proportion of advisers seeing a BDM once or twice a week.

In 2018, 11 per cent of advisers reported seeing a field-based BDM once or twice a week.

This jumped to 24 per cent in the 2019 survey, which was conducted with more than 200 advisers earlier this year.

For telephone-based contact, the figure increased from 8 per cent to 25 per cent, while across both channels, the proportion of advisers reporting making contact only once a month decreased.

Why BDM contact is on the rise
BWD puts these trends down to an increase in advisers’ use of discretionary fund managers, model portfolios, centralised investment propositions, or a combination of all of those.

In the at-retirement space, as drawdown offerings have taken on a renewed prominence, platforms and life companies have also had cause for more frequent visits, given the increase in the volume of products coming to market.

The report reads: “Both new and existing firms are launching new funds and products to capitalise on the growing need of advisers who therefore require the assistance and expertise of their dedicated contact.

“If advisers are adopting a new proposition, they will require assistance to ensure a smooth transition. The expertise and knowledge of the BDM will be essential, culminating in an increase in regular contact.”

BWD also questions whether recent market volatility could have nudged advisers towards more regular discussions with their contacts at investment managers and platforms.

According to research from Platforum, advisers have historically rated platforms such as Parmenion and Aegon highly for BDM support.

Field-based visits remain more popular than calls. The majority of advisers are in touch with between one and five field-based BDMs, with a fifth engaging with between six and 10, BWD finds.

There are still 8 per cent of advisers who say they do not engage with any field-based BDMs, and 20 per cent do not engage with any over the phone.

BWD notes: “It is a little surprising that a fifth of respondents do not engage at all. Is this because they prefer face-to-face, have yet to adopt this method, or don’t like discussing business over the phone?

“Whatever the answer, it has increased over the years, when the number of BDMs has also increased.”

What advisers want
Provision of technical knowledge and support on individual cases come out significantly ahead of other options for why advisers look to engage with BDMs, either in person or over the phone.

However, that field-based BDMs’ “contact changes too often” or they are “hard to get hold of” are the two main frustrations advisers have with those in the role, at 32 per cent and 25 per cent respectively, coming in ahead of BDMs lacking technical knowledge or sales ideas.

The proportion of advisers expressing frustrations at contacts changing too often has risen 11 percentage points from last year.

“We all know that people move on and take up new challenges or are promoted, but this would indicate a lot of movement, which is not the case,” BWD writes.

“Firms will often reposition boundaries, increase regions and even allocate a BDM to a new area if, for example, an area is underperforming and requires new focus.

“Many field-based BDMs are now home-based, with little time spent in the head office, other than for training and sales meetings.

“This makes them more versatile and they can see more advisers but, clearly, there are issues with a combination of these affecting the advisory community.”

Fears over excessive contact in the phone-based world also seem overplayed, as there was a fall in the number of complaints over “calling too often” and an increase in those that involved being “hard to get hold of”.

BWD notes there remains a shift towards call-based operations, but providers still have work to do to ensure they are successful.

The report reads: “Providers will all operate with defined service standards; therefore we expect that they would be aware when or if these standards are not met. Measurement is much easier than with field BDMs, so it should be easier to identify performance standards and failings.

“That’s not to suggest that this is all easy, but if providers can convert more adviser relationships to be remote or tele-based, they will in principle make significant cost improvements.”

Helping hand for advice
Writing for Money Marketing in 2015, Plan Money adviser Peter Chadborn mounted a defence of the role BDMs can play in certain sectors of the market, such as protection, arguing that new business stagnation was exacerbated by not enough BDMs giving support and training to IFAs on positioning and selling protection to clients.

London Money adviser Martin Stewart says in the mortgage planning world as well, “a good BDM is priceless and one of the reasons why some lenders gain business at the expense of others”.

Dobson and Hodge financial planner Paul Stocks agrees that a BDM’s impact is “potentially massive, especially one who knows their firm’s niche product aspects, strengths and limitations”. However, he adds that “unfortunately, most experience has evaporated or they’re spread too thinly to deliver the service required”.

BWD’s research indicates that a third of advisers still see BDMs as important, and another 15 per cent rate them as very important.

But will “robo-BDMs” ever emerge to match the rise in robo-advice-style propositions, giving advisers greater access to automated support?

BWD’s survey suggests not, with only 8 per cent of advisers agreeing that for speed and urgent requirements, some form of online access could make a case for robo-BDMs.

The recruitment firm concludes: “The threat posed by robo-advice has been viewed for some time now, but has yet to materialise.

“Utilising these propositions as a stepping stone to full advice once an assets under management threshold has been reached certainly makes sense.

“As for robo-BDMs, it is clear advisers are not in favour.

“Earlier in the report, the two main reasons for using either field- or tele-based BDMs are [shown to be] ‘assistance on individual cases’ and ‘technical knowledge’.

“Understanding the intricacies of individual cases requires human interaction.

“In the three years this question has been asked, the percentage to agree with ‘human interaction is essential’ has always been high, but this year sees the highest yet.”

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