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Advisers may be basing recommendations on their perception of provider service rather than the reality.

The full 150-page report covering the Money Marketing Service Ratings Survey, is out now and the results are surprising. It gives a detailed breakdown of intermediaries’ ratings for different aspects of provider service across a sample 13 common areas of business.

What is clear from the results is the answers provided by intermediaries when asked to rate their top three providers in terms of service, do not necessarily tally when advisers were asked to rate six different aspects of their top three providers’ service, including time spent in communication. One IFA wrote in the comments section,: “I only use two providers (for pension business) and having rated aspects of their service I will be looking for alternatives.”

With no previous real-time measure of service before the online service ratings tool was launched by Money Marketing, the question must be how many products have been recommended by intermediaries based on their perception of provider service, rather than the measurable service reality.

This perception theory may also be supported by the survey results which show certain providers being rated highly for certain products and poorly for others.  For example, Skandia Life achieved a 2nd place ranking for investment bonds but an 18th place ranking for life assurance.

Without further investigation one may assume the provider has the same service platform, the same operations management and the same staff training. 

This variance was not just evident between product areas but also between products in the same product area.  Our survey placed LV= 2nd and 5th for income protection and critical Illness respectively, but the insurer was ranked 16th place for life assurance.

This trend was reflected in the results for a number of large providers offering products across a number of sectors. Axa Wealth, Aegon, Friends Life, Legal & General and Standard Life all showed significant variations in service ratings across their product ranges.

In certain product categories the results indicate that the power of some of the big market players may be starting to be threatened by a newer breed of smaller niche providers which are able to deliver consistently high levels of service to smaller audiences.  

Some major players are determined this will not happen to them. Aviva was rated by intermediaries as a top three provider for service in more product categories than any other provider.

Aviva UK and Ireland life chief executive David Barral is fully aware of the huge importance of provider service. He believes service is “where providers can stand out from the competition.” Barral’s call for an accurate, real-time measure of service performance fed into our thinking in launching the Money Marketing Service Ratings project.  Barral believes providers who engrain good service into their DNA are the ones that will succeed. 

Prudential UK operations director Tulsi Naidu says: “The Money Marketing Service Ratings Report provides a wealth of information and it’s encouraging that so many advisers have embraced the opportunity to give us their feedback.

“What makes this report particularly useful for us is that the feedback is broken down into specific product and servicing categories. This allows us to use the information in a very practical way to make sure that we’re focussing our on-going service improvement efforts in the areas that advisers value the most.”

The survey results indicate 95 per cent of intermediaries believe service is an important or very important factor in deciding what products to recommend.  As more and more intermediaries start to use the free online ratings system their results will combine to provide a live real-time accurate picture of provider service standards. Until that picture gets clearer and clearer throughout 2014, the perception of service might still protect some providers for now, but their days may be numbered.

To obtain a copy of the full report or learn more about MM Service Ratings online system, contact paul.smith@centaur.co.uk. To access live data on current service levels and to start to build your own records of the service you are receiving from providers register at www.mmserviceratings.co.uk.MM Service Ratings is a joint venture with Dalbar (Europe).

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