“Good morning. Thank you for calling Preposterous Life, Call Centre 1, my
name is Cynthia, how can I help you?”
Does this ring a bell? When I hear this, I assume the staff have been on a
Victoria Wood training programme. The problem is that Victoria Wood is a
We recently carried out detailed research with Swiss Re looking at the
service IFAs get from providers. It may not surprise you the responses were
not all favourable. The big issue to us is that many IFAs support providers
whose service is poor. Common responses were:
We have to use the best product regardless of service (often quoting
We will put up with bad service if it does not hurtthe client.
Most are bad.
A provider which had good service when we gave them business has gone
downhill and we still have to deal with them.
In the “good old days”, each provider had a local office and a team of
broker consultants. The consultant and the support people knew the IFAs and
their clients. People took ownership of problems.
Why did it change? Like all industries, there was pressure to cut costs.
The fad of the early 90s was Business Process Re-Engineering,
business-speak for changing the way we do things. The obvious area for cuts
was distribution. The sales and marketing cost of putting a policy on the
books varied from £150 to more than £500, excluding commission.
Along came the axe. So-called telesales consultants replaced broker
consultants. Call centres in remote offices replaced regional offices.
High-quality telephony and advanced technology ensured the call centre had
all the data to ensure first-class service.
So why don't IFAs get first-class service? Inexperienced staff are
handling IFA queries. They refer to someone else when they do not know the
answer. They are nameless, you get someone different each time. No one
Instead of direct-dial numbers giving access to individual human beings,
we now have touch-dial systems that, if you are lucky, give you access to a
call centre. The technology is not good enough. The electronic files are
not recording all communications and this results in inefficiencies, delays
The messages from the research for IFA Survey 2000 are clear:
IFAs do not like call centres.
IFAs do not like nameless people who refer queries.
IFAs do not like inefficient touch-tone telephone systems.
So what do they want?
They want people to own problems.
They love technical helplines.
They like a name with apersonal number.
It is really not too hard,is it? So, who are the winners?
In addition to a good brand and a broad product range, Standard Life still
employs a big salesforce working from regional offices.
IFAs are not happy that Scottish Widows has withdrawn local service. On
the other hand, it is the one office that seems to have cracked the
telesales problem. From the IFAs' viewpoint, it employs qualified people
Norwich Union and Legal & General have also had some success. L&G would
not win the top award for service right now but it has set up a system for
key accounts that is working and in the field it has a consultant, what it
calls a business development manager. Servicing the same account isa
telesales person based in Cardiff and an administrator based in Hove.
Because it has the right technology, each member of the trio knows what the
other has done. The survey shows its service provision to networks is well
Ninety per cent of those interviewed said service played a part in
selection. But when we looked deeper, only 52 per cent could consider
removing providers of bad service from panels so nearly half support bad
FSA proposals are bringing poor service to the fore. This just might make
IFAs rethink who they support.
Despite recent criticism of broker consultants, when asked if they wanted
any relationships with provider personnel and if so who, 85 per cent said
they preferred a relationship with a broker consultant.
What of the future? We asked IFAs what technology they were investing in
and what effect this would have on provider communication.
Eighty-seven per cent of respondents have websites or immediate plans to
build them. Once internet access is unmetered, most communications will be
online. But there are concerns. IFAs still want technical helplines – they
do not trust electronic systems to solve problems and they still expect
consultants to provide marketing and sales solutions.
Largely, IFAs do not use provider extranets because there are no standard
systems. Providers seek competitive advantage by differen- tiation, IFA
administrators need standardisation.
The survey carries a simple message. Use standardised and efficient
systems for transmission of data but ensure qualified and competent people
are on hand to own problems, provide technical help and sales support. Easy