Advisers have voiced their disappointment over provider delays throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, with one adviser describing the response as “shocking” and another expressing disdain over “very poor” delays.
Scott Gallacher, chartered financial planner at Rowley Turton, told FTAdviser: “Virtually all providers fell short in how prepared they were for a pandemic and service standards were shocking.
Gallacher said delays at some companies had increased significantly with two to four weeks turning into eight to twelve weeks' delays.
“The delays seem to affect death claims or withdrawals the most. Providers seem to endeavour to keep new business departments fully functioning as they bring money into the firm whereas many of the other departments are about money leaving that firm, hence they never seem to be as supported.”
Stephanie Pickering, chartered financial planner at Verity Wealth Management, told FTAdviser that “responses have generally been very poor on many occasions” regarding various providers across the board.
“Most providers have not mastered Covid home working some 12 months down the line, all too often trotting out the Covid excuse. In fairness, they have been exceptional circumstances and something they would never have really planned for.”
She explained that calls had taken up to 40 minutes to be answered, then to be answered by a call handler who could not provide the answer to the question.
“Their messages when on hold suggesting we use their websites are so annoying; if our query could be answered via their website we would do so, rather than waste time in telephone queues.”
Historically, advisers have often been disgruntled by delays but since the pandemic they say the situation has got worse.
In July last year, FTAdviser reported three quarters of savers had to wait a month or longer to access their pension savings during lockdown, with advisers also experiencing significant delays.
Research from consolidator PensionBee, published at that time, found out of 961 people aged 55 to 70 surveyed, more than one in five had had to wait more than three months to receive their pension, while 14 per cent could not access their money for five months or more.
However, some advisers say providers have done a good job in spite of the difficult conditions.
For Sebastien de la Fuente, practice principal at Highcross Financial, there have been “occasional issues” but otherwise it has “been fine”.
He said: “You can easily surmise a counterfactual in which provider communication could have turned absolutely terrible and threatened to pull the industry apart, particularly with everyone at home and the amount of data that needs to be handled.
“That did not happen and in some respects the pandemic has brought about much needed change, in particular with moving the processing of data online.”
Ricky Chan, chartered financial planner at IFS Wealth & Pensions, said a lot of the providers “have adapted well” with the pandemic being a “catalyst for change”.
Chan said: “Many have started accepting electronic signatures whereas they did not pre-lockdown, and some mortgage lenders have relaxed rules on accepting screenshots and electronic bank statements.