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Heathrow experience shows the value of advice

I have just learnt a heart-warming lesson about the value of buying with advice. The point that the businessmen and regulators who preach commoditisation and simplification miss is that when things go wrong having a professional on your side is utterly priceless. While others queue and get rebuffed, you glide through.

You see I was booked on a flight out of Heathrow on Saturday and along with, they say, one million others, a snow storm and some pretty pathetic prep by BAA put my plans in limbo.

When my flight was cancelled I took the tube. It was packed with people of all nationalities, happily comparing stories. I met Lowrie Boyce, who was on his way back to his Belfast home from charity work in Myanmar and was 50 hours into his journey, (if any Irish readers know Lowrie please send him my best, he is a remarkable man).

We chatted as the tube crawled towards London and tried to sort ourselves out before we crept underground. I rang my travel agent. I had not gone direct, or dealt online, I had used Trailfinders and within a few minutes they had grabbed me the next and last seat available to Cape Town before Christmas. It is peak season down there so I am seriously pleased with the result.

Others on the tube were holding endlessly for airline call-centres worldwide and trying to get answers from websites, but because I used a professional intermediary, because I took advice and bought carefully, I had help. Educated, talented and customer focussed help and now I sit typing this, praying that the snow and BAA will not combine to repeat the shutdown, and thanking my lucky stars I bought through professionals. They have even suggested I go on stand-by tonight as the disruption may mean that flights that look full are not and the snow might arrive tomorrow. Great advice. I will never travel through any other firm now.

In protection we demonstrate the value of professional intermediation, when we sort out each direct deal foul up, each bank error, each divorce, and particularly each claim. Some claims we just hand hold, others we speed up and a few we fight for clients in danger of being mistreated by organisations too big for them to influence properly, but who will listen intently to us as important business partners and forceful representatives of an unhappy claimant.

Nowhere in any regulation have I seen this value acknowledged, the value of service and customer focus. Rather our governors and regulators and business leaders are bankers and management consultants, used to multinationals and giant institutions that require scale and uniformity in any solution they endorse. They cannot fathom the personal touch, because it is variable, sometimes brilliant, sometimes not. Rather they must have everything in bands and tiers, that their market research can prove to them creates uniformity, even as the ombudsman parades 1000’s of cases of evidence that this uniformity offers no better surety of a good consumer outcome.

We professionals are better for consumers than their institutions. Trailfinders versus BAA showed me that again. Yet there seems no chance of the current regulatory team realising that the solution lies in making professional advice more widely available and then improving it steadily, rather than taking the knife to it. The current regulatory trend is a travesty and it will fail consumers. Again.

Tom Baigrie is managing director at Lifesearch


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There are 11 comments at the moment, we would love to hear your opinion too.

  1. Well said Tom and well presented!
    FSA would have difficulty understanding this as its not something you can box!!!

  2. Very well said Tom.

  3. I agree and I made a very similar point about the disruption caused by the Icelandic ash cloud. Those with advice and support generally fared much better than those who had cut corners and booked online etc.

    I think that it is reasonable to compare this with the shabby lack of advice available for direct mortgage deals and other financial products available through the internet or call centres.

  4. A timely and well thought out piece.

    We are in the people business and large institutions are not. It is that simple and the trailblazers and BA example cover it perfectly.

  5. I would seriously doubt if the FSA even bothers to read these articles as most of them seem to tell the uncomfortble truths that the FSA don’t want to hear, and none of us can do anything about it anyway, so why should they ever bother.

  6. Great article. My clients call me and speak to me, not some call centre on Mars that doesn’t even understand the question. We then own the problem, sort it and add so much value it’s untrue. That is why the IFA will survive. It’s just a shame that we can no longer afford to provide this service to ‘Middle England’.

  7. George Emsden (CancerIFA) 22nd December 2010 at 1:02 pm

    Well said. Nothing new under the sun!

  8. Very well put Tom. Unfortunately, the Product Providers don’t seem to understand this either with Standard Life, Skandia etc closing their local offices and substituting them with call centres yet still expecting their ‘service’ to remain unchanged.

  9. Fantastic observations Tom of proper customer service. Everyone who cares about their product and also service can always deliver – even when the going gets tough. To say one servicing an industry cannot afford that means that one doesn’t care enough about the ultimate happy customer. Financial services is all about service. It’s all to do with people and happy customers. Hope you have a great trip.

  10. Excellent value from TrailFinders. Economy flight £750 return and good advice thrown in. I wonder how much they got paid and how many Advisers would be happy to work on the same rate ?

  11. Great article that could really have impact in the money pages of a daily paper. Hope you try to get it published whilst it remains topical

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