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