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Line of the times

If you asked a financial business two years ago whether call centres

generated pro-
fit or were simply a necess-
ary evil, 100 per cent

would have ans^_wered the latter, claims Data^_mon^_itor consultant Steve

Morrell.

The traditional image of
a call centre is a noisy, jam-packed room

with badly paid employees answering continuous calls from distant clients.

Boards flash up, announcing the number of calls taken each hour and the

supervisors are driven only by the number of sales per call.

But that was then and this is now. IFA firms are recognising that call

centres are integral parts of the business. Big firms are recruiting

qualified individuals to their call centres, convinced that it is
a

smart move.

What is more, call centres are profitable. Over a third of organisations

now see their call centre as a tool for generating profits. A quarter

consider generating revenue to be a call centre&#39s main aim, according to

recent research by Datamonitor.

IFA firms including Chase de Vere Investments, Towry Law and Hargreaves

Lans^_down say their call centres are increasing in size, profits and

importance.

The future of the call centre looks bright despite the advance of internet

sales.

Aifa believes call centres can be good for clients. Dir^_ec^_tor of policy

and technical
services Fay Goddard says: “Large IFAs see call centres

as an important way to offer clients the choice of how to receive advice.

They need to have skilled, trained staff as there should not be a relaxing

of standards simply because adv^_ice is offered over the phone.”

What has happened to change the traditional call centre into a thriving

business asset? Morrell says: “Call centres used to be seen as just another

channel for the customers and a way to take the pressure off the branch.

But they actually became quite expensive to run.

“When call centres bec^_ame a focus of competition between firms, there

was pres^_sure on them to start making a profit.”

Morrell says the growth of the call centre is also due to the advance of

technology. Now, just one call can provide all the information a client may

need as it can easily be accessed on screen by the call centre employee.

Towry Law says its call centre performs three main functions which have

evolved since it was launched two years ago. Managing director of UK life &

pensions Mike Standish says: “Our call centre acts as an advice-giving and

information source to clients who do not want a personal meeting. Some

clients feel threatened by face-to-face meetings and prefer to build up a

relationship over the phone.

“It also is a marketing and customer service centre which calls up

customers to check they are satisfied or if they need further advice. It

also serves as a reactive client service taking away some of the enquiry

load from advisers.”

Other IFAs are developing their call centre potential. Har^_greaves

Lansdown product development manager Ben Lundie says although its call

centre is currently execution-only, this is set to change within the next

year.

He says: “We want to be able to offer advice from our call centre – which

we call a helpdesk – as soon as poss^_ible. Within the next year, we want

trained advisers to be able to offer advice over the phone. Our helpdesk

has alr^_eady grown in the last six years from four employees to a current

staff of 26.”

Gone are the days of pressurised, underpaid employees reeling off scripted

answers with the phones glued to their ears, say IFAs. Call centres are now

staffed by skilful advisers who use the call centre as a training ground

for careers as IFAs.

Chase de Vere Invest^_ments is set to recruit 20 advisers into its call

centre this year alone. Investments director Chris Shaw says: “Two years

ago,
we employed 12 people in our call centre. By the end of this year,

we will have 37. Call centres can be a great starting point for graduates

who are looking for car^_eers as IFAs.”

Standish says: “It is no longer true that call centre staff are unskilled

and badly paid. The skills needed by call centre staff are extremely sought

after. We employ full-time advisers to staff our call centre. We also

employ part-time staff who choose to work fewer hours to suit their lives.”

Do the salaries of these skilled call centre staff reflect the increased

profitability they are bringing into the firm? Morrell says: “Call centre

staff are traditionally badly paid. The average salary outside of London is

10,000 but financial institutions tend to pay better salaries.”

Standish says: “The market rate for a skilled adviser
in a call centre

is between 17,000 and 25,000. We pay at the higher end of this scale. On

top of this there will also be bonus expectations.”

Shaw says: “We pay our staff the lower end of the 17,000 to 25,000 market

rate. This is because we see the call centre as a training ground for new

advisers. They would probably graduate from it and take up higher positions

within three years.”

IFA firms agree that call centres are now thriving parts of their business

but they are reluctant to reveal just how profitable a call centre is.

Lundie says: “Our call centre does not operate alone. The staff also work

in other areas of the business alongside their call centre roles. So we

cannot judge the profit^_ability of the call centre.”

Standish says: “Over time, our call centre has increased in profitability

but it is hard
to identify it. How can you
put a financial value on

provi^_ding a wider choice and better quality of advice for clients?”

The future seems bright for call centres. IFAs and data consultants say

they have come a long way in a relatively short time and look set to stay

des^_pite technological advances.

Morrell says: “Call centres will absolutely not be des^_troyed by

technology. For every three times a client attempts to buy online, one

transaction will be abandoned due to the lack of customer service. There

would be a 33 per cent improvement in sales if customers received advice

from a call centre.”

Shaw says: “Despite the advance of the internet, people still like to hear

a voice at the end of a line. It is reassuring to be able to talk through

decisions with an adviser. Call centres will be very much alive in the

future.”

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