Your Industry  

Secret IFA: Focus on customers not ‘partners’

Secret IFA: Focus on customers not ‘partners’

Sometimes it is the tiniest things that provide the biggest clues about an organisation’s culture. Websites will tell you what they think you want to know, and are designed to attract you and your savings. But the marketing story and the actual client experience don’t always match.

In the past 10 years I have undertaken four complaints on behalf of clients; one against HSBC, one against Zurich and two against St James’s Place. Each time I have won compensation for the clients and put them back to their original financial position. HSBC accepted the adjudicator’s decision and settled without making life any more difficult for their customer. But Zurich and SJP continued to fight their customer by challenging the ruling and escalating the complaint to the Ombudsman. Of course they are entitled to do so, but by then it felt as if it had become less about the client, and more about them.

It might look good on a website to mention an advice guarantee as SJP does, but clients still have to go to the Ombudsman – who upheld their complaint each time – to get things put right.

Article continues after advert

It can be difficult for a client who no longer wants to deal with SJP through one of their ‘partners’. I have several clients with older SJP contracts and we keep an eye on these by asking clients to give an authority for us to request information. SJP limits the validity of client authority letters to just 12 months, so before we can conduct the next annual review, our client (their customer) has to produce another authority letter. We try get round this by inserting a line stating the existing authority remains in place until the client says otherwise. It doesn’t always work though.

Another way that SJP makes life harder for a client who prefers to work with an IFA is when they require something that needs signing and witnessing, such as anti-money laundering documents. They send a letter to the client asking them to get the document certified by a bank official, solicitor, judge, notary public, post office – in fact a whole list of people which is notable for its exclusion of the one person they’re working with, their IFA.

While the IFA may be anathema to SJP, that shouldn’t get in the way of making life easy for those who have their products but no longer wish to work with a ‘partner’.

Half the complaints I have handled have been against SJP. In that limited experience I have found the company to be focused on keeping ‘partners’ happy rather than their customers.

Or perhaps the real customers are the people who sell its products, in which case it is doing fine.