Lifesearch case shows advisers must do better

Simon Read

Simon Read

Did you hear about the adviser caught bad-mouthing his client over the phone?

This is not the opening line to a joke: it is about a pocket-dial that had very serious repercussions.

After finishing a call with a client, the adviser turned to his colleagues to tell them about the call.

It is something that people do every day, especially after a difficult conversation.

But the adviser then had a real pop at his client – but did not realise that he had accidentally re-dialled the client who could hear every word said.

The insulting words, phrases and laughter were unpleasant for the client to hear.

He complained to the adviser’s company – Lifesearch – and, unsatisfied with the response, took his case to the Financial Ombudsman Service. 

It ruled in his favour, which is hardly surprising when you read the damning words from ombudsman Simon Pugh.

He said: “The content of the conversation [the client] overhead was, in my view, shocking, offensive and utterly appalling. [The adviser] swore repeatedly, violently and extremely strongly, about [the client]. He insulted him. He mocked his medical history.

“He even expressed the view that [the client] ought to have committed suicide in the context of what he’d learned about [the client’s] medical history. It was inexcusable.”

It is not just inexcusable – it is a shocking betrayal of trust.

It is understandable to feel the need to vent after an upsetting conversation; I have done it several times over the years with colleagues when editors have made what I thought were unreasonable demands, and, I can tell you now, that my words can be very choice when I am angry or upset.

But, and it is a big but, I would not normally say anything that I would not be prepared to say to an editor’s face.

In truth, I have often expressed my anger in the office in the hope that someone does pass on my views to the editor.

In doing so that has led to some uncomfortable conversations over the years, but has also led to clearing the air (as well as clearing my desk on one fraught occasion on a national newspaper).

So why was the Lifesearch adviser’s behaviour more reprehensible?

Because of the trust that there must be between an adviser and a client.

The latter shares a lot of personal, detailed and confidential information with their adviser and should know that the adviser is respectful of that, not sharing it and laughing about it with others.

But an adviser should also do exactly what their title suggests – advise, not take it upon themselves to judge a client.

In this case, the adviser treated the client with contempt; laughing at their situation and making light of their distress. It is no wonder the client felt so offended.