Friends Life in fresh poaching storm over client letter

An IFA has accused Friends Life of “blatently encouraging” consumers to remove their adviser from their policy in a letter that has been sent out to policyholders informing them of business structure changes.

The letter, seen by FTAdviser, was sent out to Friends Provident policyholders to update them on the branding change to Friends Life. The one page document also enquires about the client’s relationship with their adviser, providing a cut-away form for use to remove an adviser from the policy.

The IFA, who asked not to be named, said it seemed designed to prompt a client to deal direct with the company, particularly due to the inclusion of a bold lettered heading that reads ‘remove my adviser’ above the cut-away form.

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Friends Life has rejected the criticism, stating that the letter was solely intended to ensure that the firm has the correct adviser details for its customer records.

The letter says: “With these changes in mind, we wanted to make sure that your records with us accurately reflect your relationship with your adviser. These currently show that [the IFA] is your adviser. We share details of your policy and personal information with your adviser to help them provide a better service to you.”

It goes on to say that if the client is happy with their existing adviser, “you do not need to do anything”, before listing two alternative options comprising of appointing a new adviser or removing the adviser. The cut-away form is then provided underneath.

The IFA told FTAdviser: “The letter cheesed me off and, to me, it was blatantly encouraging clients to remove their adviser. It is not clear that Friends Life merely wants to update its records.

“I understand any provider wanting to update records but this is not clear in the letter.

“I admit that if we don’t have a relationship with our clients then it’s our fault if we lose them. But if we do have a relationship, providers should not be encouraging consumers to leave them.”

A spokesperson for Friends Life admitted that the letter “could have been worded better”, but denied that it was at an attempt to persuade consumers to leave their advisers.

He said: “Our letter was solely intended to help us to ensure that we have the correct adviser details for our customer records. We also gave customers information in the letter about how to find a new adviser if they had lost touch with their existing adviser.

“We are not currently issuing this letter to any customers and we will take on board feedback from advisers if we write to customers to update our records in the future.”

This follows on from previous poaching rows that have embroiled other providers such as Standard Life which has admitted that this is a problem.