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Less than divine service

Our industry finds itself forever evolving through different Governments, rules, regulations and, dare I say, scandals.

However, the one thing that should be a constant is our service for, above anything else, we are a service industry. But the reality is far from this.

In just under 20 years, we have seen the industry become regulated and the stan- dards in testing our knowledge increased to create a professional environment that is robust and encourages development of our expertise.

With this are the implications of the legacy of advice prior to these changes and the misselling scandals that have plagued us since.

For the most part, these changes are a positive force. But some of the less obvious effects of the changes to this industry are having a detrimental consequence to the consumer perception of us.

A sales culture has rapidly taken hold and affected everything from point of sale to the behind-the-scenes support which is the backbone of the service we present to the consumer. This is what is fundamentally flawed.

Having seen a sea-change in processing and administration from a relationship-driven service to one that is now shackled by service standards, this has had a knock-on effect to the way in which we deliver advice to consumers.

Over the years, IFAs and discount brokers have been plagued by the inefficiencies of insurance companies. There appears to have been a massive deterioration in the quality of response to queries and the request for information. At present, it appears that the acceptable standard for forwarding information to IFAs is in the region of two weeks. However, this is just the starting point and some companies quote up to 21 days for a simple policy update. There can perhaps be a certain level of understanding due to the increased activity over the years but this cannot be used as an excuse for the overall decline of service. I have seen administrative support almost pull their hair out over the lack of responsibility they get from insurance companies. It is often required to make phone calls on a daily basis to chase up requests that are delayed or that have been inaccurately processed.

Perhaps one of the bigger issues relates to the apparent need of companies to send information through as many departments as possible to justify the length of time taken to respond. Once it is logged on, it then has to make its ominous journey on to the correct department.

There are also many instances when admin staff are given conflicting explanations where there has been a change in processes.

If this is not enough to test the patience of many support staff, the increased demand for medicals is pushing them beyond that threshold.

Having seen many take on the role of insurance companies by chasing surgeries and underwriters, might I suggest this is just one of the areas that requires an overhaul in how it is processed. There are often delays, incorrect inform- ation being passed on and the additional strain of dealing with surgeries’ lack of urgency.

There is an argument that the role of our admin staff is to chase and liaise with companies. However, it is repetitive and, effectively, much of the work should be done by the insurers.

The most important factor in all this is the consumer. After all, this is exactly why we are here. However, along with the already imbedded negative perception of our industry due to past issues and scandals, they are now hit by constant delays and inefficiencies in processing requests and applications.

It is the IFA or discount broker that effectively bears the brunt of this, shouldering much of the responsibility.

There needs to be an overhaul in how insurance companies deal with distributors to address the unacceptable service standards.

This is something that we can all work on together, to improve the overall quality of the service we provide to consumers.

Kerry Nelson is an adviser

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