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INDEPENDENT VIEW

It is always a little unnerving when your past catches up with you. I had occasion to meet someone recently who I have not seen for a number of years.

He reminded me of an article I had written many years ago about insurance company inspectors. He still uses this when training his new recruits, which speaks of its surprising longevity, but it set me thinking about how the role of the insurance company inspector or broker consultant has changed over the last few years and will change in the future.

It is easy to knock the role but it is a difficult one. The demands of each IFA business are different. But when inspectors get it right, they make a real difference to the IFA/product provider relationship. Importantly, it is the positive impact on the client that really counts.

What do we need from our inspectors? What will be the shape of the role in the future? Do we need inspectors at all?

Communicating change is important. Certainly, it is essential we are told about changes to products or product designs as these affect our clients. But we also need to know about changes of managers, particularly with investment funds. Who is the new person going to be and how will they change the fund? Will the changes be cosmetic or dramatic and what track record has the new manager got?

If there is a change to the philosophy of the company, this is also very important. We are in the midst of acquisitions and mergers and this can mean the style of a company can change quite dramatically.

Troubleshooting remains a key activity for inspectors. One of my colleagues told us of an incident when he was an inspector and the company he worked for had messed up big time on one of his IFA&#39s cases. He went prepared with a whole army of reasons why there had been these problems – it had taken him a long time to prepare his case. But all the IFA said was: “Fix it.”

When there are problems, we need to be assured that it is not a question of the leak being plugged up with a bung. We need to know the ship has been in dry dock and the timbers renewed.

The technical role is one that is important. IFAs are technically much more able than they were 10 years ago but this is still an important aspect of an inspector&#39s role. We need assistance with exam study as well as technical input on specific cases. Inspectors need to be a step ahead in this area.

It is the inspector&#39s role to get under the skin of the IFA&#39s business. A better understanding of both parties – product provider and IFA – means the total can be stronger than the sum of the parts.

Charges on contracts, particularly with the Government stepping in to dictate maximum charges, are such that the cost differences between one company&#39s and another&#39s contracts are likely to be much reduced in the future. Therefore, it is in other areas that a company needs to knit itself closely to the IFAs it wants to support.

This might take the form of help in expanding the business or handling profitable clients. Training on sales or management skills, or expertise in marketing initiatives may be required.

Inspectors have a key place in setting up this type of liaison and ongoing contact.

Yes, there will always be a place for face-to-face inspectors. The role may adapt, as discussed above. But any IFA that thinks that face to face is not important should possibly get another career.

Amanda Davidson

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