It’s one thing having a chat with a new client on Zoom or Teams, to advise them, in the new technology-led environment. But there’s also the practical side of helping clients with their pensions and investments to be managed, in changed circumstances.
Obtaining signatures in person has been one of the challenges arising from the pandemic, meaning advisers need the flexibility of using electronic signatures instead. Advisers also rely heavily on providers, to be able to effectively manage their clients’ financial priorities. But with many of providers’ employees working from home, or furloughed, what impact has this had on the service provided?
“Providers have adapted well,” Phil Anderson, managing director of Phil Anderson Financial Services, reports: “Some used to be very strict, but they have adapted to the ‘new normal’. For instance, some used to want us to provide the original letter of authority, but most now accept a scanned copy”.
Ms McCarron reports a similar experience: “Providers seem to be happier now with scanned documents or e-signatures, but not across the board.
“We found that providers’ communications were slower from March to May, but I expect this was due to a combination of home working, increased communication due to market performance and the end of the tax year.
“All in all, I’ve been impressed with being able to communicate with providers over the phone and have even found we’ve received information more quickly than usual, now that we receive documents by secure mail rather than through the post”.
Provider and platform problems
There have been some glitches, however, as Mr Anderson says: “I feel very sorry for mortgage advisers at the moment. One of my colleagues was on the phone to a lender for 45 minutes before their call was answered. Enquiries are booming and their staff are doing their best, but working from home is not easy.”
Others report a sticky start to service levels during the pandemic, which has improved over time: “It was terrible initially,” says Darren Hunter of Hunter Wealth Management: “It was an email-only service from most providers at first. But people are getting used to working from home now and are answering the phone.”
Ross Leckridge, associate director at Johnston Carmichael Wealth, reports a mixed experience too: “Some providers coped really well and we were able to call or email and get the assistance and answers we needed pretty quickly.
Others were awful and stopped just short of closing their doors and telling us to come back when this had all blown over. There are still some who are insisting on getting any new enquiries by email and quoting 10-15-day turnaround times, even for pretty basic requests.”
And there is a perception that these glitches may be here to stay: “Some providers have been hugely painful to deal with, with some emails going into a ‘black hole’. It’s a chronic service problem now,” observes Cannon, who adds: “But some platforms deserve great credit for how they adapted”.