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Independent view

During the 16 years I have been in this industry, we have seen, in my opinion, a steady decline in service standards. It is a concern that we may now have come to accept such abysmal standards as the norm or have we?

There used to be at onetime regional branches with local inspectors visiting regularly, drumming up business, updating you with recent launches, ideas on how best to market new business with existing clients and problem solving.

Now the buck is passed to call centres, where the initial query or request is passed to a team that you can never speak to. Fingers are crossed. Unfortunately, experience tells me that very rarely is anything dealt with efficiently.

There does not any longer seem to be the same manner that staff are happy to take your call, to assist, to demonstrate efficiency, show willingness and appreciate concerns or urgency or even to see new business as something to accept happily rather than as “hassle”. Oh, happy days.

We now face 101 options over the telephone directing us to the “right” department depending on type of policy or query. How frustrating is it when, having entered several options, you then speak to a person only to be told you have come through to the wrong department? Then when you do get to the right department, you are told that the turnaround time is XX working days to produce a simple illustration when in the old days, (now I sound like some old wise man) next-day delivery would not be unreasonable or indeed personal delivery from the local inspector as this also gave way to discussing business opportunities.

The problem that we have here is that, as we have seen life offices diminish in numbers through takeover and buyout, I feel that we have without an ounce of doubt lost quality of service. At the same time, we have seen commission being squeezed which has contributed to the increase in fee-charging IFAs.

Should the client pay for our time (carefully recorded) spent on provider incompetence, errors, delays and unnecessary and repetitive chasing? Should we as the IFA bear these costs? Of course not. The provider should be invoiced and this is exactly what we do and I would encourage all IFAs to adopt this practice which may lead to improved service standards in this increasingly feepaying industry of ours.

It has made a pleasant change recently to note that a particular life office is now raising the stakes in terms of service standards.

It uses a comparatively “old” piece of technology to speed up a process that with a 14-day quote period has a requirement for efficiency and speed. No forms need be returned, no policy documents or lost policy declarations.

The information is simply provided over the telephone and the call is recorded acting as the contract.

However, it should be borne in mind that the life office does reserve the right to request at any time sight of birth and marriage certificates for age admittance and name verification.

In one particular case of ours, the annuity was set up immediately after the call and the tax-free cash arrived in the client&#39s hands after just two working days. Now that is what you call service.

Of course, many life offices now have extranet sites allowing, via passwords, access to client policies to obtain information and even process new business online, which again can speed things up aiding efficiency.

For as long as I can remember, we have been promised that technology would make life easier and business more efficient. Let us hope that this is the case and that a return is made, albeit in a different way, to the service standards that once upon a time we were used to.

Turnround times of 45 working days for simple illustrations are not acceptable to us or our clients and I applaud those companies which seek to raise the standards again.

Gavin Churchill is consultant at Warwick Butchart Associates

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