Peter Chadborn: BDMs are out of reach

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I have just received an email from a fellow adviser asking why we are losing all the good business development managers. It is off the back of a message from a decent BDM saying he is being moved on. Of course, people move on and the more successful the role is fulfilled, the more likely a step-up will be offered. But this is just a minor frustration against the backdrop in perpetual decline in support to advisers from life offices.

I get the economics. We appreciate that life offices cannot offer face-to-face support to every advice firm. In fact, we do not really want face-to-face support. Telephone-based just is fine. We also do not want BDMs ringing us every week; that is not a good use of their time or ours. I have been told that if advisers did not sell on price alone, driving down premiums and putting pressure on insurers profits, there may be more capacity to provide IFA support. Maybe so. I am also told that the direct-to-consumer market is demanding life office focus. Quite right. But what prevails in the advice market today is advisers on first-name terms with just a few BDMs, with others requiring a back office system search (only to find they have moved on) or a call to a central number to talk to the appointed “support team”.

Herein lies the problem. We are just a small IFA firm that writes a bit of protection, so why does it matter what we do or think? Our business levels are insignificant, right? Our size and model represents the vast majority of the IFA market, however, so that is the majority of the market largely off-radar.

Go to any given protection-based conference in the last 10 years and there will be some common themes: how do we grow the protection market? How do we close the protection gap? How do we increase engagement? I think we are broadly in agreement that most people do not choose to buy protection. The concept has to be positioned (sold). Yet I would hazard a guess that most protection-writers could name only three or four BDMs. This is an obvious disconnect.

We take our protection advice very seriously but I would have to say we have got to where we are despite life office support, not because of it. The protection industry is full of bright, enthusiastic and highly motivated people but these are the senior people, the decision-makers one is lucky enough to meet if one does stuff in the press and wins the odd award. We have had and still have some really good BDMs. The problem is with consistency and reach. Not enough firms get the attention they need to engender their engagement with protection advice. I believe this to be a primary factor in the stagnation of new protection business across the industry. Unless something changes, increasingly fewer advisers will get support and training, and they will write less protection business as a result.

Peter Chadborn is director and adviser at Plan Money