Last month, I wrote in this space of the shoddy sales tactics used by those who tell customers they don’t give financial advice but then use half-truths and selective information to close the sale.
These were uncovered by our sales retention team investigating a spate of churned policies. I have never before had such a sympathetic response to my opinions. Provider staff, IFAs, regulators and even ex-employees of the firms in question have all told me that they wish that these hard-sell excesses were properly controlled.
Several insurers have in turn made clear that they do not take business from sellers in this sector unless they are convinced that proper TCF disciplines are followed. But as one noted: “There always seems to be one last provider who will give them an agency in return for market share.”
This suggests that IFAs can easily require the provider partners who seek our protection business to demonstrate that they do not support retailers who do not TCF and that they are certain that their customers do not feel advised when they have officially had no advice.
Ethically, we should do this because our reputation cannot stand distinct from those who do more or less what we do in consumers’ eyes. We are tarred with the same brush except to those existing clients who know us to be trustworthy. Furthermore, the insurers we deal with are often dismissed as being only “interested in wriggling out of claims”. We know that is not true of our partners but if a policy was sold in unscrupulous fashion and the owner thinks its terminal illness benefit is a lowcost critical-Illness cover, they will feel betrayed when their cancer is diag-nosed. And their anger will not just be at the seller (whose name they will hardly remember anyway) but at all who arrange protection. We IFAs rely greatly on the ethical reputation of our wider markets.
Commercially, these sellers directly attack the IFA model. They employ unqualified, cheap staff who get only vestigial compliance, training and oversight and with boiler-room tactics and predatory pricing they undercut proper advisers, especially when they learn existing cover is in place.
Their sales tactics are hard and effective and they convert far more leads into sales than would any internet site at far lower overhead cost than any adviser. That simple business model is why these “pop-up” sellers are the fastest growing retail type. Of course, their tactics cause many customers to have later doubts and so indemnity commission clawback becomes a serious problem but that takes two years or more and in the interim, their rapid growth looks very impressive to prov-iders seeking market share.
There are many eventual losers in this. The biggest is, of course, the consumer who buys wrongly but the first affected are IFAs competing against competitors with an unsustainable business model based on predatory pricing.
So, if the ethical reputation of all retailers, including IFAs, quite rightly depends on stopping foul play in our market and that makes commercial sense too, then there is no need to leave it to the FSA (as we did with PPI for 10 years). Rather we should require our provider partners to certify to us that if they trade at all with tele-sales non-advisers, they prove that they have made certain these firms do not play the shabby tricks so many of you recognised when I wrote of them last month.
If they refuse, our business should not go to them except in the very rare cases when it must to treat the customer fairly. In the medium term, even the providers will thank us as their clawback rates fall.
Tom Baigrie is managing director of Lifesearch