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Service double faults

Brokers berating life offices for poor service should consider the quality of business that they submit.

Have you ever complained to a life office about their service? Did you follow up the complaint with a letter to Money Marketing? Have you ever then not recommended the (otherwise) most suitable provider because of this company’s poor service?

If so, you might just be doing your customer and your business a disservice and it might in part just even be your fault.

Whether it is refreshing or simply naive for an adviser to question whether or not the blame for poor service partly lies with those selling the products in the first place is debatable as the industry knows life office service is usually bad regardless.

We read IFA letters about poor service but while a recent survey found 21 per cent of IFAs rated the service they get from life and pension providers as appalling, we tend not to see similar surveys about the quality of the business submitted. To what extent are life offices restricted by our own business practices and procedures when it comes to providing good service?

“Mr Client, as you have told me you have high blood pressure, what I’m going to do is apply to four different companies. We’ll accept the first one to offer us terms, but don’t worry, I’ll switch your cover immediately if one of the other three come back afterwards with better terms.”

Is this good service or is it causing a traffic jam on a roundabout?

I am told that three to four of every 10 protection applications never start so it is clear that multi-proposing causes delays, as does sending in application forms where questions and details are incorrect or missing. If your client has information such as their medication, their last blood pressure reading or how old their parent was when they were diagnosed, then write it down, you might save the need for further information and speed up the process.

I am not suggesting that customers should pay more for the sake of it but the only way to guarantee the best premium would be to apply to every single company. Instead of filing out lots of different forms and creating additional administration, why not ask a technician or paraplanner to check the information your client has told you with an underwriter before applying – it will take a fraction of the time and will not clog the industry with applications which will never proceed.

This would also allow you to position the likely underwriting process and decision with your client up front so nothing comes as too much of a shock, which increases the chances of the policy starting and keeps it on the books for longer.

If it is clear your client does not want to pay this higher premium, then discuss reducing the cover in accord with their budget as lowering the cover may also lead to less underwriting and a quicker decision. With online submission, we can reduce life office errors because it is not possible to submit a case without first answering all the questions, which means there will not be any typing errors. Well if there are, it will be our fault and not theirs.

By keeping a record of conversations and interactive decisions made when completing applications electronically, the calls made to underwriters can become shorter and less frequent.

Let us consider the other end of the process – claims.

Have you ever submitted a claim for the sake of it on the off-chance the insurer might pay out or to save face in front of your client and be seen to be doing the right thing? Or because, you did not actually if it was a justifiable claim or not because you did not fully understand (nor explain) what TPD, TIB or FATs meant?

Following the protection sales boom, the industry faces a claims’ boom, which must lead to a rise in declined claims in a market where TPD already has a high declinature rate.

Even if you are reading this and thinking, well, that is not me, what about the broker down the road whose applications sit in the same queue as yours, or the mortgage broker who has no idea about how to write protection business properly? At least the supermarkets cannot multipropose – could you imagine the chaos – alth-ough at least they would be offering their customers choice, which would be an improvement.

Service is a key part or our recommendation, as is underwriting. If a life office’s service is poor then we are to blame in our customer’s eyes as we made the recommendation. But expert advisers are skilled enough in many other areas of financial services to the extent that there is nothing here that should prove too difficult or time-consuming. If it does, and yet you agree with the principle, then it is time to introduce your business to a specialist.

These examples all cause delays in the service we receive and, by improving the process at the front end, I wonder if life offices would be able to improve the service they offer? Some may even be able to offer bespoke arrangements for those advisers who submit clearly better quality business. Providing specific detailed feedback to life offices on where they are going wrong and why is often information that they value highly.

The future of IFA and life office relationships is about working as a partnership which identifies mutual benefits and rewards quantity and quality. However, as long as life offices continue to reward volume, regardless of how unprofitable that volume may prove to be, those selling your products will not be encouraged to change their habits. So you see, it is all the life office’s fault after all.

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