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Vanity fair

Treating Customers Fairly – is it a catchphrase or a reality with providers? IFAs have no choice but to treat customers fairly if we want any sort of long-term relationship. The client has to believe we are treating them fairly and operating in their best interests. But I do not get the same feeling from providers over whether they care about long-term relationships with their customers and certainly it looks as if some pay lip-service to treating customers fairly while in reality doing nothing of the sort.

They certainly fail to treat IFAs fairly. How many times have you found yourself waiting for some call centre to deal with your query, only to find that the person at the other end of the phone has no knowledge of their own company’s products? They are simply following a script and, if your query falls outside the scope of that script, then you are in real trouble. You can never get anybody to take any responsibility and it is very rare that you will find someone who can actually deal with a query from start to finish.

Some providers have decided that the only way to service IFAs is to provide a phone consultant. I have no problem with this as long as they know what they are talking about and make some effort in dealing with genuine queries. The worst type of consultant is like one I had call me recently. After 15 seconds, he was trying to tell me how to run my business.

I realise that not all IFAs can have real broker consultants and, frankly, not all of us would want them. But I tend to find that the companies I deal with most are those where I can find somebody to take responsibility when something goes wrong and who can deal with that problem. The companies I deal with least are those where I have to make several phone calls to find out who is responsible. The less support you provide, the less business you will get. But there are some glimpses of light in this dark recess, such as those companies which have taken on board the benefits of using technology, making it easier to value clients’ portfolios and provide information. They usually give technical back-up and provide broker consultants who know what they are talking about.

These are the companies I prefer to deal with. It takes two minutes to value a client portfolio instead of a 10-minute phone call. These are the companies treating me fairly and, funnily enough, they tend to be the companies treating customers fairly, too.

Treating customers fairly as a concept should be automatic to all of us. It should not have to be an FSA doctrine preached to us from above and I feel sad that it should be even something that we talk about or that the FSA feels it necessary to consult about.

It is a sad indictment of our industry that the regulator feels that it has to find out whether or not we treat our customers fairly. This should be a prerequisite to doing business. If you are not treating customers fairly, then you have no right to do business in this industry.

One of the things I find most annoying is companies which have exclusive deals for a certain type of customer. I am, of course, referring to some of the mortgage providers which fail to grasp that it is unfair to have a fixed-rate deal that is only available to new customers and not to existing borrowers. This is a perfect example of not treating customers fairly and it is also commercially stupid.

We must try and eradicate this type of behaviour from our industry because it only serves to reinforce the cynical views held by the media and some of our clients about the fairness of financial institutions which seem to have their own interests at heart.

We are a service-based industry. We provide services to our clients and our clients’ interests should be foremost in our minds. We should make it easy to deal with us, use words that are simple and clear, act promptly and provide information which is transparent to all concerned.

If we do this and do it on a regular basis, there will be no need for the FSA to even ask the question about treating customers fairly. Frankly, we all should be insulted by the question of whether we treat customers fairly.

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