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The angry view from a closed-life call centre

Matt Worthington, a former call centre worker for a closed-life company, has a few things to get off his chest.

The CII has been throwing a lot of weight behind the concept of “professionalism” lately; both internally and externally. Last week’s Money Marketing article is just one example of their current lobbying for “a requirement for firms to demonstrate professionalism”.

I would like to add my own voice to the call for (delete as applicable) IFAs/financial planners/asset managers/wealth managers/money gurus/wealth creation consultants to demonstrate a greater degree of professionalism.

Now, I am not writing to you as a regulator, or a trade body, or a client, or even as a fellow IFA, but as a call centre operator for a large, closed-book life and pension provider. Every day I deal with an average of 70 calls; from clients, IFAs, solicitors, accountants, bank managers, tax inspectors, HR consultants, funeral directors, welfare benefits officers…the list goes on and on. And each caller will come on the line with a differing degree of financial awareness, and a differing degree of professionalism.

As you would imagine (and hope!) IFAs tend to score top in the financial awareness field. But consistently, and disappointingly, my colleagues and I find IFAs to be the least professional people we deal with.

Basic courtesy and politeness is a given from most callers, but all too often lacking from IFAs. And I’ve never been shouted at by a solicitor, but again, it is a common occurrence from IFAs. Same story for being sworn at or personally insulted. We would never expect an accountant or a bank manager to hurl abuse down the line like a drunk at a football match, but sadly we tend to anticipate it from IFAs.

I understand your frustrations, definitely. You’re kept on hold for ages (with some pretty dire hold music, I admit). You have to go through the same repetitive data protection routine over and over again. Then sometimes we can’t give you the information you need. Or we give you the wrong information. Or we tell you it’ll have to be sent in writing, which takes a few weeks. Plus postage.

As a company we’re not perfect, but what company is? And as call centre operators we’re obviously not going to have the same breadth and depth of experience and knowledge as you are. Otherwise we wouldn’t be call centre operators; we’d be IFAs. I know we are “the face of the company”, but please, show some respect to people trying to do their job as best they can.

Contrary to popular belief, we call centre operators aren’t actually responsible for setting HMRC’s trivial commutation rules. Nor do we have much say in when Royal Mail decide to deliver the quotes we posted to you. And surprising as it may be, if you decide to transfer your clients substantial funds to the far reaches of the globe, we don’t have the authority to “bypass that ridiculous anti-money laundering malarkey and chuck the cash over sharpish”.

Shouting and swearing at a minimum wage call centre operator because you feel that the “f***ing company is stealing my clients money”  will never get you a result.  On the other hand, “I’d like to discuss my concerns over the charging structure of your product” sounds much better, doesn’t it? And far more likely to get a half-decent factual response.

I’m pleased to say that I’m putting this behind me now. I am leaving the call centre for a small asset management firm, having (like most of my colleagues) studied for my first qualifications (PFS Diploma in Regulated Financial Planning, PFS Certificate in Financial Planning, CII Award in Financial Administration, and IMA Certificate in Money Advice Practice).

Anyway, rant over. Sincere apologies to the polite and professional IFAs out there – I have enjoyed speaking with you and dealing with your queries. No doubts I’ll share your call centre frustrations in the near future, but whatever I encounter, I wholly intend to maintain a polite and professional manner in all of my communications; not just those with fee-paying or prospective clients.

Matt Worthington


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There are 67 comments at the moment, we would love to hear your opinion too.

  1. Well said Matt… a Customer Service Representative in a Commission department within a Life company I can wholeheartedly agree with your rant!

  2. Well said Matt. Eloquently and clearly put. You will always get a better response from call centres and in life generally if you treat people with respect and explain in simple terms what you are trying to find out regarding a client’s policy. I can only hope that the proposed changes in ethical and professional behaviour that should come with RDR will remove the bad apples and the world becomes a more pleasant place in which to do business.

  3. Well said Matt, completely agree and sympathise

  4. Shouting abuse is inexcusable. It probably shows just how much pressure IFA’s are currently under. Most of us don’t know whether we have a business next year.

    I guess if you are a solicitor and charging £250 an hour you are happy to listen to 25 minutes of hold music at 7p a second.

    We all know that RDR will hopefully rid our industry of the knuckle dragging, mouth breathing, slow moving baboons that still operate. Hopefully post 2012 they will have gone and Matt and his colleagues will be left with polite professional IFA’s to deal with.

    Sadly I suspect that a lot of the good IFA’s will go too.

  5. I suspect the difference between IFAs and the rest are that advisers spend soooooo much time, on the phone to companies, that their nerves are in shreds. As a rule I do not shout at call centre workers but when I get frustrated with a the company I may well get forceful but always tell the person I am speaking to that I am not blaming them, personally, for the company’s shortcomings.

    However…occasionally I have spoken to someone who will just refuse to give a direct answer (yes/no/don’t know). I don’t mind someone admitting they don’t know and offering to find out for me (I don’t know everything either). But I have had quite a few people who do this (they don’t seem to realise how contadictory they are being) and that does make you go a bit mental, I can tell you. But it is no good going into any conversation with the intention of shouting and, quite understandably, that rarely gets the desired result.

  6. I’ve dealt with a huge number of FA’s in over a decade in a call centre environment (much of this as a supervisor). To be fair, the majority are reasonable and professional. However, a small but significant number are rude, unreasonable and thoroughly unpleasant people who remind me of toddlers throwing a tantrum. I absolutely accept that we do get things wrong sometimes, but take it from an insider, you’ll get vastly superior results complaining politely yet firmly. It’s sad and embarrasing to hear a middle-aged FA doing a very good impression of one of those problem children from Supernanny!

  7. Poorly trained staff in mediocre firm uses the ‘we’re ask crap as everyone else so don’t shout at us’ routine.


  8. The fault lies not with call centre staff but with the service levels decided on by their employers. The closed companies know perfectly well that the money is likely to be leaving them so slow down the process as much as possible. That said, there is never an excuse for rude or aggressive behaviour and I agree with Matt that it is counterproductive.

  9. Best article i have ever read, so accurate. if you went into public place and said some of the things these people say you would get done for breach of the peace. making someone feel crap to feed your ego is so wrong.

  10. I couldn’t agree with you more Matt. I am an IFA in my own very small practice and it never ceases to amaze me how our industry seems to have grown so full of our own importance.

    Whenever I go to one of my networks forums, it seems to be full of advisers who “would get out of bed for less than £100k per year” and who look down their noses at anyone who drives a car worth less than £50k and so it’s of no surprise to hear how this attitude carries over when dealing with others.

    Unfortunately there seems to be a core of Advisers who seem to have lost touch with reality and seem to feel they are so hard done by because they may now have to actually work for a living.

    I have lived my life trying to the best of my ability to treat people how I would expect to be treated. I think my mother was the one who told me something like “good manners costs nothing”

    Yes occasionally I come across call centre staff who clearly don’t give two hoots about their roll in their company and provide a below par service but this is not an everyday occurrence, however I find meeting fire with fire with these select few still doesn’t get me what I need any quicker or easier.

    I am pleased to say the majority of call centre staff to be helpful and friendly to deal with and let us not forget without these minimum wage people our jobs as IFA would be considerable harder.

    Congratulations Matt on working hard and finding a position out of the call centre and I hope your experience there will hold you in good stead in your future career.

  11. Rude FA with no manners uses the ‘I’m in a hurry so will abuse anyone who doesn’t give me what I want now’ routine.


  12. So Anonymous 3:16pm, you’re evidently one of the ones who shouts and throws his toys out the pram then… and you say others are pathetic.

  13. David Quarrell APFS 15th February 2012 at 3:26 pm

    I can relate to all of the reasons why IFA’S get worked up (paragraph 4 of Matt’s letter). I received very little CO-OPeration from one such office recently as the client had had the temerity to have moved house and it took 7 (seven) months before they would release information after several calls from the client himself and each time I rang to see how it was proceeding they refused to recognise me as his adviser.

    I have had very little RE-ASSUREance from another closed life office who insist of wet copy LOA’S and then seem to automatically dispute the clien’t signature from 20 years ago!

    As for a third office that seems to have risen PHOENIX-like from the ashes, god help us!

    and don’t even get me started on mumbai’s finest football team WOOLWICH arsenal.

    No I don’t condone treatment Matt has suffered, but I can understand it, the theme from Black Beauty is enough to drive anyone insane !

  14. Manners cost nothing. A little more empathy for someone working for a company which doesn’t provide much value for money for the person on either end of the line will always receive a better response. This could be anyone you know and abuse just doesn’t work.

  15. Well said Matt – i was you many years ago – believe me there is light at the end of the tunnel, moving on from this environment is the best thing you can do.

    Polite but firm is the way to go – sadly these days common courtesy is far from common.

    And for the Anonymous poster, firstly have the courage of your convictions to put your name where your mouth is, and secondly – rudeness, shouting and abuse is unacceptable EVERYWHERE – call centre staff are people too, and deserve the right to do their jobs without such childish and ridiculous treatment
    Some of the things that i had said to me or the tirades i had shouted at me during my 18 months in a call centre at the beginning of my career would have you physically ejected from a retail store, or refused treatment at a doctors or hospital. Just because the person is at the end of a telephone and not physically in front of you does not change how it is acceptable to treat them.

  16. I do sympathise with Matt Worthington, especially if he was/is a competent person. I know I have raised my voice from time to time, but I always make sure that the person on the other end of the phone knows that I am not angry them, but with the company that too often ends up either having people on the phone who lack the necessary competence or has a system that is itself incompetent. For professionalism to work it should be matched by professionalism. It is often said that courtesy costs nothing, but with some companies it could cost a blood pressure table or two!
    But frankly I can’t extend any level of professionalism to Keith Thomson. What element of RDR is geared to changing personal behaviour on the phone? What aspect of RDR is actually geared to behaving in a professional manner? What aspect of RDR will affect the behaviour of people so that the world will become a more pleasant place to do business? I know a few people who are unbelievably boorish on the phone, and RDR will not change them in the slightest.
    Living in fantasy land about what RDR is designed to achieve or even likely to achieve demonstrates a lack of professionalism in you, for you portray a message to others that RDR will change human behaviour. And pigs might fly. RDR will have a hard job doing what it is designed to do; do not add the impossible to that burden.

  17. David Trenner - Intelligent Pensions 15th February 2012 at 3:33 pm

    After 50 minutes on the phone to Barclays Indian call centre operatives I gave up and called their Complaints department.

    If you want service don’t go to customer service, go to Complaints!

  18. Pensions Administrator 15th February 2012 at 3:42 pm

    Politeness brings proactivity! The more pleasant an IFA, the harder I worked for them – keeping an eye on their clients and making sure they knew of any issues up front. I didn’t have to, but I chose to because they were pleasant to deal with and said thanks. When they get angry, you are concerned and actually care.
    To those of your who swear, rant & rave and belittle us when things aren’t to your liking – learn some manners pronto – they really go a long way. Otherwise, I will remember you for being atrocious and then make sure I steer clear of you & your clients….you get what you required initially and no more. Your rudeness feeds my utter contempt.
    I have heard IFA’s lambast people to the point of tears, it doesn’t make the receipient feel good, so why be so vicious? If it’s your fault for not completing the forms correctly, accept it graciously – or ask us for advice up front on how to fill it in!
    Often a well worded e-mail or letter when you are fuming gets more response than an aggressive shouter. IFA’s are so beautifully eloquent on paper…..
    Thank you Matt – it’s hard to just have to take it. Until someone swears profusely & is warned, an operator on the end of the line cannot just end the call & just has to take it. Life & Pensions Companies – stand up & give your staff some more protection from verbally nasty customers who don’t just swear, but clearly also bully and bully just for the sake it….we can all name a bullying IFA instantly….. (so can their own office support team, as we hear from them….).
    So all you aggressive shouters, think twice and then open your mouth before you tear a strip off someone and ruin their day!

  19. To those who demand very high service from providers, let’s be pragmatic for a minute. I could create a provider where the staff were all highly trained and knowledgable, there were so many on the phone lines that there was never, ever a queue and every FA had his own personal contact. Sound good? That provider would probably be so expensive to run that its rates would be awful! At the other end of the scale, I could employ lowly trained people in minimal numbers and the running costs would be pretty low (allowing better value products). Realistically, most real providers are going to fall somewhere between these theoretical examples. Reasonable rates and reasonable standards can and should be expected by FA’s. But stellar service and very competitive rates are probably a tad unrealistic (no matter what anyone’s marketing blurb might say!).

  20. How many times have you been through the grind with a semi-literate, semi-interested, salaried call centre gimp? Slumped in their chairs, clock watching, idling the day away without a care in the world. These people make me sick.

    FA’s are hardworking people who need to protect their client’s money. We need high quality answers quickly not spending our days on the phone dealing with such gibbery.

  21. Patronising in the extreme. IFA’s get more angry than the others because we know what shoody service is being served up and the others are merely ignorant of that fact. Clue comes in “closed” as rubbish service is endemic in many life companies and despite all the apologists here the fact is you reap what you sow.

  22. Neil F Liversidge 15th February 2012 at 4:03 pm

    No argument with any of your points Matt – It’s compulsory for our staff to be polite to all providers because we want results and we find that’s the best way to get them. From the other side of the fence though, will the FSA please explain why it has not forced closed companies (and some that are not closed!) to abandon practices such as sending everything by second class mail and never ever making out going phone calls regardless of time criticality? Other favourite ploys beloved of the likes of Halifax Life are refusing to take heed of a clear letter of request to surrender and instead insisting on having a form filled in, which is only sent out at the second or third request. Absolutley the call centre workers don’t deserve abuse, but a lot of their bosses certainly do. Ultimately it’s all to the clients’ detriment so why allow them to do it? Surely it’s not TCF?

  23. Long live the professional, non-swearing, but constructively abusive IFA. Who says you cant be abusive, upleasant and also professional ….it’s an art form. We have a god given right and mandate from the client to get things done. Why should we put up with slap dash administration and unhelpful call centres and daylight robbery of client funds. As IFAs we know how the system works and use our skill and knowledge to stand up for joe public to cut through life office corporate culture and the massaging of information. Unfortunately Matt you were on the front line and therefore as the fall guy had to take the initial flak. I’ve no desire to upset anybody persoanally…but I’m fed up of being polite and getting no results, when I say jump, the call centre operator should respond “Yes Sir, how high…I’ll get those details immediately”. Business isn’t always a pleasant place to be when you’re standing up for the little guy against the Big money. If you cant stand the heat…

  24. To Anonymous a 3.50pm

    Given that you didn’t have the minerals to give your name, I think we can all safely ignore your rantings.

    You quite clearly receive the service you deserve. I would hate to be one of your clients.

  25. Now, anonymous, why doesn’t it surprise me that you hide behind anonymity to make your point. Professionals know that Matt’s article was spot on. If you haven’t got the balls to publish over your name…… then shut up… Coward and bully are two labels that spring to mind. Matt, good luck in the future.

  26. @Richard Rouse

    If you prefer to drop your trousers and expose your bare buttocks to the lash of poor service and deliberate stymieing then be my guest. Me, I prefer to be the one holding the stick.

  27. Here is a shock to the system!!! this fantasy of IFA’s being supreme is over, due to the fact that some were totally unqualified, most are ageing and are not willing to requalify (as it is hassle) and the rest are in a panic beause they want to churn as much business as they can in prior to the inception of RDR 31 DECEMBER 2012. Furthermore to remain trading as an IFA they have to be as the name suggest “Independent” as they can no longer survive on which provider or company gives them the fat commission. In essence it’s game over for the COWBOY IFA’s!!!

  28. There’s never any excuse for rudeness when speaking to people at product providers. I agree with the author that this is an issue of professionalism (or lack of it).

  29. Matt – I admire your courage and your articulation. Its basic relationship/stakeholder management – we all invest in the client relationship – but often neglect those who can help us deliver for clients. And abusing/bullying is as naïve in a business sense as it is inexcuseable in a basic human sense.

  30. To Glen McKeown : You forget that RDR is both a conceptual and practical means to improve the professionalism of the industry to the level of, if not beyond, that attributed to solicitors and accountants. It is driven by a desire to improve the professional education and business behaviours of advisers in how they interact with their clients and providers alike. This combines with the TCF initiative to embed this culture into a firms culture and that of its staff. Part of the qualification process is to understand financial ethics ( RO1 in case you missed that exam) so perhaps you should consider the bigger picture in what the FSA is trying achieve. Granted there will always be individuals who will abuse call centre staff, and perhaps their own staff, but there are legal mechanisms to deal with that.

    What disappoints me is that you can launch a personal vicious tirade against someone, accusing them of being unprofessional, on a public forum, who was simply expressing an opinion on the subject. How professional is that ?

  31. Well, I’m suprised how many of you have taken the time to read and comment on this, and really pleased to see so many fellow professionals in agreement on the whole “polite and professional” issue.

    Just briefly I’d like to address a few of the negative points raised in the comments;

    – Anonymous @ 3:16pm, I think you’ve missed the whole point of the article. Not entirely sure what more I can add on this, other than to urge you to re-read it!

    – David @ 3:33pm, unfortunately you’re correct there. Nothing cuts through corporate red tape, “average service levels” and bureacracy quite like a good complaint. If it’s factual and objective then it will receive attention and “jump the queue”. Sad really, because that’s not TCF at all, but it’s the way many large companies work.

    Anonymous @ 3:50pm, I think your stereotype is very inaccurate. If you think that call centre operators can be “Slumped in their chairs, clock watching, idling the day away without a care in the world” then that just shows you’ve never been to one or worked in one. Call centre operaters are overworked and there are never enough staff to meet demand (as you must surely know, from long waiting times, hold times, arranged call backs, etc). As soon as one call ends, you have seconds to take the next before a manager is chasing you up! If you don’t think call centre operaters are hardworking, I hope you will at least agree they are very pressured, and whilst salaried, rest assured it’s not a shade of what any FA would expect!

  32. I have dealt with financial salesmen who call themselves ‘advisers’ for a number of years. Rude, abusive, unprofessional. Just a bunch of jumped up second hand car salesmen. RDR will sort them out.

  33. No one likes delays or poor service. IFAs are often reliant on providers to give information to them in order to provide this to their clients.

    If there are delays or mistakes, the IFAs have to then deal with concerned or angry clients, who start to think something terrible may have happened to their money if they don’t get an instant answer.

    On the other hand, it is perfectly okay for an IFA to be angry about poor service, but there is no excuse for being rude. I don’t think any call centre operator would take issue with an IFA who makes it clear that he is not happy with the service, but does so in a professional manager. That operator is then, as is the way with human nature, going to be more inclined to assist to solve the problem.

  34. Funny IFA – if you honestly believe that abuse and unpleasantries are reasonable strategies to employ when you’re not getting your way, then I pity your lack of social skills. I understand that poor service can be frustrating and I see the nobility of standing up for Joe Public (not platitudes, I do actually mean every word of that). But being rude and abusive is truly more reflective of the abuser than the recipient.

  35. Matt I do sympathise and it must be particularly galling as you are (or were) at least an ONSHORE call centre. Not that there is any excuse for bad manners, but perhaps you also need to see the other side of the coin.
    Unlike the other ‘professionals’ with whom you came into contact IFAs have to suffer most from hopeless offshore call centres and appalling life office service – the worst of which comes from closed life offices who really don’t give a toss as all they want are the assets and advisers and clients just get in the way of the profit and asset stripping.
    You need to work in an IFA office for a week or two to experience the frustration, annoyance and waste of time engendered. Admittedly it isn’t the fault of call centre staff, they do get the messy end of the stick and your employers know that only too well. They are cosseted and protected behind you and will rarely step up to the plate.
    Life offices might be bad, but those still offering a proposition do sometimes try. Closed offices are the bête noir of the industry and when it comes to being unprofessional they are the Gold Medal winners – not us.
    I hope that puts matters a little in perspective. And I do feel sympathy for the people on the front line. You are the ones to carry the can and are abused by both sides and undervalued and underpaid by your employer. No wonder really that firms go offshore – they probably can’t get people in the UK to be Aunt Sally’s

  36. excellent piece of factual advice on how to be nice to ordinary people.

    it’s a pity the FSA were not more forth right in dealing with the clients that Matt describes (fred the shred)

  37. Some of the anonymous comments here are pretty preposterous and frankly I don’t get why they are allowed – rant over!

    I think it is absolutely fair for any of us to expect to be dealt with, with respect and tolerance and in this respect I can endorse Matt’s comments without hesitation.

    On the other hand providers who arm themselves with staff that are trained to only basic levels and support them with poor systems are kidding themselves if they think their clients are going to put up with shoddy service.

    I rarely bother phoning call centres any more because the responses are generally not worth the time and effort employed. I’m bored with listening to Vivaldi or Greensleeves, then going through the energy sapping i/d verification process only to be told that I can’t be given the information I’m calling about.

    This failure to provide the required help is then usually compounded by the ever so cheerful call centre operative, repeatedly asking me if there’s anything else they can ‘help’ me with today. Now given that they usually haven’t actually helped me with anything in the first place tends to drive the frustration a bit further.

    So as mentioned I cannot in any way excuse bad manners, abusive or intolerant language and behaviour but do undertand how it happens. The answer is simple – don’t bother with call centres!

    Whilst on the subject of such however, is it me or does anyone else become at least mildly irked when a call centre operative calls your firm and then attempts to go through the i/d verification process when they have called you.

    On one occasion going all ironic, I attempted to turn the tables and asked a charming Indian sounding lady for her date of birth, mother’s maiden name, first school she attended, favourite holiday destination, name of current pet etc but unfortunately she just didn’t get it.

    On a more serious note though, why do closed life offices realistically expect to retain client assets when they deliver such tosh?

  38. Many years ago I worked for insurers. During that time I was amazed at the number of so-called professionals (Insurance Brokers and IFAs) who would resort to bullying instead of negotiation to get what they thought they wanted. I was also amazed at the number of times it worked, except at one company. The branch manager would cancel the agency of anyone who abused his staff and he ran one of the most successful branches in that company.

    I am sorry (but not entirely surprised) to read that times haven’t changed the deplorable practice of abuse. Those guilty of it would do well to remember that you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.

  39. Throughout the comments, I can see that a majority of IFA’s and employees of providers agree on 2 things. Firstly, that providers do sometimes give less than stellar service. Secondly, that the most professional and productive thing for an IFA to do when experiencing this type of service is to be polite yet firm in expressing their displeasure.

    Then, in the minority, we have the IFA’s who believe that perceived poor service is an absolute justification for abuse, anger and unpleasantries.

    To the first group, my apologies that we haven’t lived up to your expectations and I will try my best to resolve things as quickly as possible when our paths cross.

    To the second group, I still apologise and will still try to resolve your issues as professionally as I can, but please be aware that you actually make it more difficult and protracted for me to do so. Finally, for the second group, please read the following quote from John Lennon…

    “When I was 5 years old, my mother always told me that happiness was the key to life. When I went to school, they asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wrote down ‘happy’. They told me I didn’t understand the assignment, and I told them they didn’t understand life.”

  40. Duncan Carter, the ‘energy sapping id verification process’ is called Data Protection and is what stands in the way of YOUR CLIENTS becoming a victim of Fraud.

    If a company has to call you back to discuss something about YOUR CLIENTS, then of course the same protection is offered; I for one am glad that my data isn’t given out without verification to anyone pushy enough.

    Presumably the ‘Indian sounding lady’ didn’t get your attempt at irony because the information that you asked her for isn’t information that you would hold, so could not be used to verify the company. Hopefully you felt adequately amused and superior though.

  41. @anonymous 3.34pm. To provide classified information to anyone who calls you purporting to be acting on behalf of a company with whom you do business is rather naive to say the least.

    Fine if you call them, but not if they call you!

    Data protection is an important process and on this I am sure that we all agree, but sometimes the provision of such information needs to be viewed from both sides of the street. How do I know that the person who calls me is actually who they say they are?

    The problem with some call-centres is that many of their processes are ill thought out and not user-friendly and it is this aspect which adds fuel to any fire.

  42. I’ve been on the receiving end of a 35 minute, highly unpleasant rant from an IFA who regularly posts in here. He was seeking £5,000 damages from the insurance company I worked for, to recompense him for his time. What time did he waste? He chose to refuse to complete a form confirm that he had verified the identity of his customer. It was a simple form, with four clear instructions on the front.

    I’m not a call centre worker (though like many, it’s where I started my career,). I am a highly skilled compliance professional with a deep understanding of UK and European anti money laundering legislation. I offered to speak to him when a query was escalated from the sales team, to explain, in laymans terms, why an insurance company would require someone submitting a large single premium for an insurance to confirm that had checked the customers identity.

    His response was that not only did he have no idea what his legal requirements were in terms of money launder, he had no intention to find out, because as an IFA, why should he. He also maintained that no IFA knew, but I think that says more about the company he keeps.

    Whilst the above speaks volumes, what really got me is he didn’t show any interest in whether the delay in transferring fund had either a beneficial or detrimental impact on the number of units purchased in the investment bond he was transferring over to. Even when I offered to find out, so he could explain this to his customer given it seemed likely the delay had been to the customers benefit, he told me not to bother, he just wanted £5,000.

    Most IFAs provide a really valuable service to their client and to the financial services industry as a whole. There is a small minority that give the rest a bad name. If the IFA sector gets its act together and can unite behind a single industry body, one of the first tasks of that body must be root out the rotten wood.

  43. Bemused – you’ve made me think of a few of the ‘characters’ I’ve dealt with over the years. In no particular order, I present to you…

    The Adviser who would hang up if his call was answered by a female member of staff and would keep calling back until a male member of staff answered. He would then complain about the amount of time it had taken him to ‘get through’.

    The Adviser who, upon his call being answered, would bark, “John Smith from Smith FS, Bond Quote, 100k, Mr. A. Smith, 01/01/1945, usual terms.” and then hang up before the call handler had even had a chance to respond.

    The Adviser whose wife was his PA. She would phone up for a quote and we would prepare it exactly as per her instructions. The FA would phone a few days later apoplectic, swearing and screaming at our rank stupidity and incompetence when it came to quote production.He would demand to speak to a senior manager and lambast our failure to get a simple quote right. Investigation would always show that we had provided exactly what his wife had asked for. When this was pointed out to him and he was invited to listen to the call recording, he would simply hang up.

    I could tell you dozens more like this, but in the interests of fairness, I should point out that this still represents a minority of Advisers.

  44. What is required for less abuse is the ability to hang up the phone. I used to work for an entrepreneurial compliance company and if anyone tried to give you any s***t then the corporate view was to hang the phone up without warning. If the idiot then rang back generally he would get a business owner on the phone telling him not to abuse the staff he employed. Guess what, hardly any idiots, as they knew exactly what the deal was and that they could not behave as if they were in the playground.

  45. Anonymous 3.34p.m.

    1. QED, why don’t you front up and quote your name? Do you work in a call centre for a closed life office, maybe even designing processes and I’ve touched a nerve? There is however an immense irony in that you cite data protection whilst not quoting in your own name. Pah!

    2. The puerile questions asked are about as effective at protecting client data as a dead fish. Before you respond with another inane and anonymous diatribe, just think it through for a second.

    3. Of course the Indian lady couldn’t pass our i/d checks because she was ringing us! How were we supposed to know who she was but she and her employers [a closed life company again somewhat ironically] chose to ignore this bit of DATA PROTECTION and just expect us to take them at their word. Doh!

    4. Amused and superior; no more like bemused and long suffering. Why do you think you can treat people this way?

    Please feel free to contact me directly to discuss at You will however at the very least need to state your name to pass the ‘data protection’ tests that we insist on to protect OUR CLIENTS!

  46. As somebody who works in the technical area of a life office, I deal every day with queries escalated from our call centre. I also review a number of calls dealt with solely by the callcentre.Yes, there are decent and polite IFAs who call, and those who are pleasant and understanding and grateful. And also those that are forceful but restrained when expressing their disappointment at our shortcomings. All of which is perfectly fine. But there are also rude and arrogant callers, and often they also have a woeful ignorance. Rarely a week goes by without me having to refer an IFA to something in RPSM, or to a piece of legislation, or maybe even to point out the fact that the information they are claiming that we have failed to send is in fact in the paperwork they have received – even occasionally printed prominently in large bold typeface in the documentation. Several times a year I will either review a call or take one myself from an IFA being so outrageously rude that were he to spout such abuse face to face to people, a significant number of the general public would probably slap him.

    Much as not all IFAs are the same, I would also say that not all closed-book offices are the same; I have various plans with both closed-book and open-book companies, and whilst I’ll concede that some closed-book operations are challenging to deal with, some seem to have cottoned on to the fact the only income they have comes from their existing customers and they’re not getting any more of them, so they had better provide them with some decent customer service to retain them. By contrast I have a policy with a major open-book provider, and every dealing with them is as pleasant as undergoing root canal dentistry.

    By and large callcentre work is not glmaourous, not fun, not well paid and not easy. Certainly sometimes systrems and training (or having to deal with such a wide portfolio of products) limits how much the callcentre staff can help. But another of the things that makes it unpleasant is the attitude of a significant minority of callers. I know a number of our more able and competent callcentre staff have moved on to other positions in the business, at least in part because of the endless cycle of giving people as good a service as you can, only to be met with sarcasm, snide remarks or just plain rudeness saps the morale after a while. Of course, the less able staff are less able to move out, so when callers are rude to call centre staff, they’re just encouraging the good ones to leave and decrease the average competence of that callcentre next time they deal with them. Yes, I know we’re far from perfect, but we do monitor calls and pull up staff when they don’t meet our standards. Alas we can’t do the same with callers…

  47. Its disappointing to note that there is so much arguement and debate about a story which is basically a request to show each other a bit of respect and show professionalism.

    Its not much to ask!!

  48. Pensions man has it pretty accurately.

    This article was about treating people with respect, whether you do actually respect them, yet in places it has descended into the exact behaviour being criticised.

    It’s also a slight surprise to see so many “stupidly busy” people responding during the working day?Unless, of course, they are responding whilst on leave (as per Matt) or from their hospital beds (as per this respondent) in which case perhaps staying away from work may help you calm your nerves.

    Oh well, back to my day time TV and codeine…

  49. I’m quite liking the irony that this young educated self-motivated articulate and professional young man who is clearly on a career path could be a client of one of you advisers one day, perhaps even tomorrow when he wants some advice about what to do about the company pension and how to invest his surplus income??
    So could any of the people reading this stream.
    It is wrong to assume that some of the less articulate commentators in this stream don’t talk to their clients in the same way – it might just be normal for them. However I’m thinking that it was wise for the less respectful views to be anonymous – if we knew who you were, us mere clients might be wondering if that’s how you talk about us behind our backs too …

  50. @Anonymous | 15 Feb 2012 3:50 pm

    You are a horrible person! how dare you slate people just because they may not have had the same start in life as you, or chances.
    How dare you judge people just because you think you are all high and mighty.
    I have worked for 2 pension companies and I have taken abuse from people – becasue they dont think I know what i am talking about, however most ‘call staff’ know more that you do.
    I think you need to take a step back and have a look in the mirror,
    I challenge you to spend on day in a call centre and see how much work actually goes on, and you will then see that people like you do not get the ‘service’ you wish because people like you do not get anywhere in life! you make a few quid more than the rest but it does NOT give you the right to act the way you do!

  51. Being rude to people generally does not achieve anything for either party. We make a point of being polite to everybody we have to deal with as a firm, but moving to an hourly based fee charging proposition has helped greatly. It is difficult to become stressed listening to Vivaldi on a loop when the clock is ticking and I can catch up on the news at the same time. Good old RDR.

  52. anon to protect the innocent 17th February 2012 at 2:23 pm

    I have had the dubious pleasure of working both with and for IFA firms and still find it unbelievable the arrogance and lack of regard for the person on the other end of the phone some IFAs have.

    I have dealt with people from all works of life and found this thankfully minor portion of unprofessional IFAs to be a breed apart.

    Some classic quotes:

    “Am I through to the quote monkeys?”

    Call centre: “No but you sound like an IFA”

    “What do you mean you won’t accept payment in premium bonds”

    “I can’t whistleblow my own client for laundering money”

    “Usual bond quote, to my home fax” **Hangs up**

    IFA to life office employee – “I don’t employ you to think, just give me the 7% initial”

    “Why won’t you give me a list of all my client’s policy details on my special form so I can transfer them all out?”

    IFAs are widely acknowledged as the most challenging group of people to deal with in the industry and I am thankful that after 10 years experience in the industry I no longer have to deal with this group of giant egos.

  53. Has anyone ever managed to get through by telephone to Bright Grey’s call centre , I would be suprised to know if anyone has !

  54. Keith Thomson: If you truly believe that a set of rules imposed from above by a group of people who have over the last 10 years or more demonstrated that they are monumentally out of touch with reality is a driving force for professionalism then you are in for a massive disappointment in the coming years.
    The bigger picture of what the FSA are trying to achieve is to create an industry flow process that can be more easily regulated, because they cannot cope with the current model. The outcome for consumers is the excuse, but not the driving force. As well as doing your finance exams you would do well to read books on sociology, social psychology and probability theory and you will start to question the conceptual basis of the FSA’s RDR.
    Embedding a culture rarely, if ever, succeeds when win driven from the top. It may for a while gain word of mouth acceptance, but it does not leave a lasting legacy on which to grow a dynamic culture. Professionalism is not part of RDR. Professionalism is part of your own make up and attitude to work. Professionalism will grow if it becomes an integral part of the working culture and you buy into that culture RDR can survive even without people buying into professionalism because it is a set of rules. Whether RDR will work is a debate that may take another 5 years to settle. I would guess that some new “idea” will come along to superseded it. Professional should be something that is fundamental and quite independent of RDR. RDR does not create it; you do.
    Which is the same about ethics. Go into any University Library and you will see rows of books on Ethics, which means just one thing – there is an amazing lack of unanimity on what it means. You do not write tomes on what is already fully understood. Moreover I would suggest that if you do not have an ingrained understanding what is ethical in Western Commerce, no amount of exams are going to tell you. The FSA as regulator should be there to cover grey areas, which the main function of the accountancy and legal regulators. They do not tell accountants and solicitors how to act, accountants ask solicitors do that themselves by dint of their own cultural history. The regulator codifies what already occurs.
    TCF should be a descriptive title, in the same way as Book of Fairy Tales is descriptive of what is inside a book. The FSA instead have turned it into a mystical approach to finance justifying a non-specific statement of philosophy, that is turned into rules after the event. In my opinion this is actually the antipathy of professionalism.
    RDR is in the main a bunch of poorly constructed and badly explained rules, that will in the end cause as much damage as good, because they are based on a fundamental interpretation of financial mediation that will only be found in a committee room, has little external foundation, and is undermined by virtually every piece of available research. There is an old cliche that if you say something long enough and loud enough people will start to believe it, no matter how absurd the idea may be. That is RDR, transformed from being review into a caste in stone pattern of behaviour without any quality research or dialogue. That tends to happen when the people in charge realise they are on weak ground but have given themselves little room to manoeuvre.
    So that is why I believe that people who waive RDR as the great savour of finance and changer of behavioural patterns need a tirade. Any meaningful change must come from YOU and your colleagues and a belief that what you do and the way you act is professional. Stop dumping the responsibility for your own behaviour on a flawed set of rules. If enough IFAs had thought along those lines decades ago we may not have needed RDR. I say may not because I do not believe that advisers are actually the main culprits in the current debacle. Insurance companies long ago (1976 to be precise) had the opportunity of moving towards a more professional industry, but eschewed the opportunity in favour of more profits. I’m not sure that decision turned out to be as profitable as they hoped, though the people in charge at the time are now long into a prosperous retirement.

  55. To Anonymous 15/2 15.50
    I work in a call centre and I have to say that 95% of the time I get to deal with professional, articulate and educated IFAs. Unfortunately I also have to deal with rude, belligerent and downright stupid IFAs like yourself. I note that you class yourself as a hardworking person who needs to protect their client’s money, obviously you are not that hard working as you manage to find time on a Wednesday afternoon to browse through the internet and produce a ridiculous and quite frankly an obsurd rant online. If you have such a strong opinions about call centre staff, why do you feel the need to hide behind anonymous, why do you not give out your name? Me and my fellow call centre colleagues are most intrigued to know who you are but I suspect that you are just too much of a coward to release your name unlike me. I will continue to do my job, which does not involve me slumped in my chair and clock watching but trying to help people with any queries that they have. I am sure that you will continue with “protecting client’s money” although I wouldn’t entrust someone like you to manage my copper collection

  56. @ Duncan Carter. Duncan, remember that clients and potential clients have a handy search engine called ‘Google’ (look it up if you have not heard if it). With this magic ‘google’ they can do research on you. If I was a potential client I could read your rantings in this thread., Why not read them yourself, but try and imagine yourself in a client’s shoes. Do you sound like a professional adviser, or just some embarrassing jumped up bully?

  57. Neil F Liversidge 19th February 2012 at 11:43 am

    Some of the comments on here bring back memories from my time on the other side of the fence. In my DBS days one of my younger colleagues in the Research Dept faxed (pre email!) an out of date information sheet to a member who shortly rang back, quite apoplectic. I apologised profusely and faxed the correct sheet through while I was apologising; the machine was next to my desk. But he was still bending my ear. I pointed out that I had apologised for my colleague and had faxed the right sheet through, and I asked “What more would you lime me to do?”

    He then told me I wasn’t showing adequate remorse.

    So I offered to go out on the car park and flog myself with barbed wire …

  58. Why don’t you all direct your ire at the owners of these zombie companies – they are the real villains – as everyone knows.

  59. Judging by the response Matt has hit a few nerves and should be pleased to have done so.

    Mea culpa, I have been guilty of showing frustration when dealing with call centres. Like many respondants I have tempered this by telling the person on the other end of the ‘phone thay my frustration was not aimed at them, but at their executive. Waiting time costs, money, cock-ups cost time, 0845 call cost more money and robots referring to themselves in the first person are infuriating. Self-employed IFAs’ who have little or no staff count costs very carefully and hate wasting time stuck on the ‘phone to call centres. We should understand each others points of view and show respect and politeness to one and other in an ideal world. I shall try to modify my behaviour still further at times of great stress and hope that large companies will show us some respect in their dealings with us.

    If ever I have inavertantly offended you Matt, then I apologise unreservedly and to other call centres, with the exception of Lloyds TSB Indian call center pest who have ‘phoned me on Sunday evenings and bank holidays even because I have been late with credit card payments on occassions since the credit crunch. Four calls in one week to chase an accidental underpayment of £18. I do not have any patience with that sort of harassment, although some will say that they are only doing their job.

  60. Interesting to see how many long comments there are in this string by those complaining about wasting time on the telephone! Surely there is something more important to do!

  61. Speaking as an IFA who in the past managed several call centres of varying sizes (and at one stage had the final say over adviser remuneration for a well known Life office’s direct sales force) I have heard a number of these tantrums and it still makes me cringe.

    It is fair to say that the vast majority of IFAs that I know that have or will be getting their level 4 qualifications are the ones that understand the benefits of being courteous to everyone and the dinosaurs that I know who won’t be sticking around fit Matt’s description to a tee.

    It’s a real shame that one idiot every now and then can label an entire professional body negatively. Well said Matt and welcome to the courteous IFA club.

  62. Dear Anonymous, 15/12/2012 at 3.50pm…..
    I am not semi-literate, I am not slumped in my chair, I am not clock watching without a care in the world. I have two children, a mortgage and financial commitments like everbody else. I actually do care about my performance at work because I have bills to pay! And I like to think I am a considerate person. Incase you were wondering, I work in a “contact centre”, a rather pretty word for a call centre.

    And as for IFA’s trying to protect the clients money… I have had the pleasure of speaking to a lot of IFA’s who are receiving renewal commission and additional adviser fees AND want us to pay additional commission to them for switches of funds (an essential task required in order to protect the clients money and one we like to think we pay ongoing commission for)!

    Lets stop with the insults please. I have dealt with some wonderful IFA’s over the years and I have also dealt with terrible call centre staff with banks and other organisations. This is why I actually give a toss when I am at work, as do my wonderful colleagues. The bottom line is, as with any other job or profession, some are great at it and some not so great. Keep the insults to yourself, your toys in your pram and I hope something nice happens to you one day to make you a better person inside.

    PS If IFA’s actually kept and stored client information that providers send them on a regular basis, they may not have the need to contact call centres half as much as they do!

  63. It not just call centre staff that get abuse from IFA bullies.

    Many para-planners and administrators I know have their lives made a misery buy these rude, unprofessional and frankly unpleasant people.

    These types of people are also quick to denigrate anyone earning a salary. I suspect it’s a combination of jealousy that they have a secure income, and a paranoid feeling that everyone has it in for them.

    Bullying is what it is, and has no place in any type of professional organisation. Providers have a responsibility to their staff too, and its provider’s lack of action which is half of the problem. As all calls are recorded, any abusive calls should be notified to the IFA’s employer and to the FSA.

    There is too much of tolerance of bad behaviour in the industry; as long as you bring in new business you can treat any and everyone like sh*t.

    Once RDR comes in they will also be able to be reported to their professional body. This should be a good litmus test to the professional bodies. As people who rant and rave down the phone are clearly not professional and deserve to be booted out of the (new) profession.

  64. Although I can agree with most of what you have said Matt, the point that I would make which does annoy IFAs is where providers admit they have made a mistake but then put the matter back to the start of their standard turnaround times and do not treat the matter as a priority.

    You must admit Matt that this would make you angry would it not?

    Also, service from providers is actually getting worse – longer timescales for responses to enquiries – I’m sorry but it is not acceptable for replies to take longer than 10 working days but, to quote AVIVA recently, you are looking at 15-20 days for replies.

    This is a provider issue – inexperienced staff put in Call Centres so experienced staff are not accessable.

    Also, do not blame Royal Mail for delaying post. If you send quotes/replies to enquiries out by second class post then that will take 2-3 days to be received so why do providers not use first class post!!

    The answer is…………..PROFIT!

  65. Note to David Thomas

    Very good point and I felt guilty for a moment until I noted that my note was added om a Sunday afternoon.

    Note to everyone else. it’s good to let off steam and i have read some very kindly and civilised commemts here. It is so important to have respect for decent hard working people QED. Matt’s article has touchef so many people, most of whom want to be better people. Not written in work time.

  66. If anyone abuses our staff, I speak to the miscreant and tell them my staff are not paid to take that sort of behaviour: if they want to do that they must ask for me, as I own the firm and am free to give as good as I get.

    Dependent on the severity of the abuse, this is sometimes followed by a recorded delivery letter arriving the next day, saying we are off record as their advisers.

    When I worked for an insurer I had a branch manager who cancelled agencies in these circumstances. His staff would do anything for him and he was widely respected.

  67. I’ve read this with great interest as someone who has seen both sides, begining my career in a call centre environment, before moving into IFA administration / paraplanning. The vast majority of IFA’s i would deal with were great. Efficient pleasent to deal with and on occasion, humerous. However there was a sizeable minority that were rude and obnoxious. Toward the end of by comms days, i was actually more qualified than many of the IFA’s i served, yet still they would patronise (maybe to cover for some of their own technical inadequecies?) One of the more loathsome traits of a few were to pick on the vulnerable, i.e. new starters and the less knowledgable who genuinely wanted to help. (Come on, you’re not going to get experts and experience for less than 15k)
    Still, good and bad in every industry i suppose, and it certainly gave me a thick skin!

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