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NU turns over a new leaf

Sorry is often the hardest word to say but that is what Norwich Union chief executive Gary Withers has done.

It is a brave provider that acknowledges its mistakes and apologises to IFAs on service.

But how on earth did a company of such size and importance come to this sorry pass?

For far too long, service problems have been the blot on Norwich Union’s copybook.

Most IFAs will say that they know that Norwich Union is an amalgamation of several companies.

At its heart lies several life funds which are certainly not the easiest things to merge into one financial services unit. These funds are now part-asset, part-legacy, to be managed into decline rather than the best sellers of the past. And there is still the little orphan asset problem to be taken care of. All this and demanding shareholders too.

But the last big Norwich Union CGU merger was more than five years ago so it is hardly an excuse.

Nor does it explain why service problems have continued to dog other parts of the business? Why, on protection, has NU come consistently so low in intermediaries’ rankings? As for investment bonds, there is surely no excuse. The problems must lie structurally with how NU does business. It seems that NU has accepted this.

With the apology, Withers has also outlined a solution. There will be an appraisal of the whole application process from start to finish, 30 new appointments to deal with backlogs, new investment in IT and a reassessment of protection application forms and subsequent underwriting.

On the whole, this sounds very promising.

Withers should be congratu-lated for accepting that some-thing has gone wrong. Now he must make good on his promises.

Service problems have dogged Norwich Union’s relations with IFAs for far too long. Let us hope that in a year’s time there is no need for any more apologising and the biggest financial services company and the intermediary sector can get on with serving IFA clients in an efficient partnership – and hopefully making a bit of money for both sides in the process.

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