Signposting is standard good practice in medical and legal professions and should become so among all financial intermediaries too.
Signposting means that when a customer has a need a firm cannot help with, that business takes responsibility for guiding them accurately to one that can. Imagine the outcry if doctors did not do that. So why don’t we?
Well, I expect that, despite many fine words, few firms are as customer-focused as doctors have to be. Our legacy as a market is one of business and sales, not ensuring the client gets all the help they need.
But now is the time to take another step along the road to true professionalism by asking clients the questions required to ensure they are guided to the best financial solutions.
Signposting is particularly pertinent when a customer needs protection but has a difficult medical history.
The Department for Work and Pensions has responsibility for ensuring disabled people gain easier access to things the rest of us take for granted. It has been looking at the work the British Insurance Brokers Association has done with its Find a Broker service in the general insurance space and is asking why such a solution does not exist in protection.
After all, there are now plenty of reputable specialists that can get consumers cover that other advisers cannot source.
The DWP has got the FCA to start considering how to encourage member firms to guide clients to another place that can help, in the event they identify a need for protection advice which they cannot address themselves.
The Protection Distributors Group is working with Biba and other members of the Access to Insurance Working Party to help consumers more easily find the right place to get underwriting and product advice. In protection itself, perhaps a quarter of people are served by telesales teams with no obligation to give the right advice. This makes it all the more imperative those whose business models mean they cannot help consumers in specific areas, or with existing medical conditions, do not just brush them off, but rather take a moment to responsibly send them in the right direction.
Interestingly, online players like price comparison sites are already very good at signposting clearly to specialists. Larger firms form commercial relationships and turn good deeds into revenue streams. But smaller firms can struggle to build and maintain the process and relationships needed.
That can change if the specialists in question build an accreditation and vetting method, which shows they are the right people to provide help, and then make clearly visible to all advisers a route by which they can be reached, whether through simple referral or as part of a negotiated commercial agreement. It is on its way.
Tom Baigrie is chief executive of LifeSearch and a founder member of the Protection Distributors Group