Advisers are concerned providers show no flexibility in handling urgent cases related to legacy products, even those where clients are critically ill, instead sticking to processes that can lead to long waiting times for responses.
Advisers speaking to Money Marketing are resigned to the fact obtaining information on legacy products can be painfully slow.
Grosvenor Birch financial planner Elaine Birch explains a recent incident with Legal and General. She was unable to convince the provider to speed up its standard response time of 48 hours, even though her client had become suddenly, and very critically, ill.
Her efforts to obtain details on her client’s legacy pension were frustrated by the fact the standard route for advisers to contact Legal and General for client information is to email, not to call.
Group IFA chief executive Phillip Rose tells Money Marketing he knows to expect a 57-working-day turnaround for information requests from one closed-book provider.
Magenta Financial Planning chief executive Julie Lord says there can be a three-week wait before some life companies will let advisers know they have received their request.
Such examples have led advisers to question why providers cannot facilitate a quicker turnaround when the situation is truly urgent.
In Birch’s case, to the relief of the client’s family, she finally did get somewhere on what she describes as a “very unusual” case where circumstances meant she needed to get information on a pension urgently.
However, she says this was only by circumventing the systems Legal and General have in place.
Birch says: “We have made progress but it is far from satisfactory and the guys we do manage to speak to at Legal and General are also saying it is far from satisfactory. The one route in is to speak to the protection reps because they are still engaged to liaise with IFAs.”
She adds: “They are getting approached by IFAs trying desperately to get things moving and trying the path of least resistance to get results for their clients.”
Birch says there are some alternative routes she is aware advisers can take, such as selecting the phone option for members.
Lord believes it is one of the major downfalls of large companies that they tend to paint themselves into procedural corners.
She says: “It is the same with all big companies. They have their processes there to streamline things, which is fine but every now and again you have to go around the processes to meet a need. If you do not have that flexibility in the system, frankly your company is screwed.
“I know some senior people at a life company and even they find it difficult to work around the processes they have instilled in the business.”
Lord thinks it is reasonable that advisers should be able to access all the information they need online.
She says: “You should be able to go on to their archive systems online and just find out the information you need with the appropriate password and security.”
Rose argues where life companies used to do the majority of the paperwork themselves, advisers now provide their administration services.
He sees it as unlikely Lord’s vision of an online system for legacy product data would be developed because he believes life companies will not spend any money on back office systems for their legacy businesses.
This is a common belief among advisers: that there is no real interest in investing in legacy business because it is unprofitable.
Money Marketing asked four life companies, including Legal and General, how they deal with urgent client requests and how they plan to improve services for IFAs.
Standard Life says it aims to answer calls from advisers within minutes and the average time to provide information on a pension is five days, and a life plan is 10 days. Standard Life says it does have a process in place for urgent enquiries where it aims to respond on the same day and not beyond 48 hours.
On improving the service, a Standard Life spokeswoman says: “We have the same approach and commitment to supporting advisers and their clients who have legacy products as we do all our other products. Our focus is on service excellence and helping them achieve a good outcome.”
Aviva says it has a team in place to respond to advisers’ urgent requests. It would not give fixed time frames on how quickly it aims to respond to these but says the team deals with urgent client requests as soon as possible.
Aviva customer engagement director Caroline Dibbs says when it comes to pension transfer values for legacy policies, one of the most common requests in this area, the company can act fairly quickly.
She says: “When advisers telephone us for a pension transfer value request in respect of older, so-called legacy, pension products, we’re able to resolve approximately half of these enquiries on the first call. Our aim is to get the information to advisers as quickly as possible while ensuring the quality of information is not sacrificed for speed.
“Some of our legacy pension values may require a manual calculation, and could take a little longer to produce.”
Phoenix Group, which bought Standard Life’s insurance business earlier this year, says it has a wealth of information on its website about all its legacy companies and how to locate legacy policies. It tries to answer calls within 20 seconds and most simple queries can be answered on that call.
Phoenix classes clients, such as the one Birch refers to, as vulnerable customers and works with advisers and policyholders to prioritise such cases in terms of ensuring paperwork and payments are dealt with as a high priority. Again, it would not give a concrete time frame within which it aims to respond.
A Phoenix spokesman says the company is working to make more services able to be carried out online.
Legal and General, at the time of publishing, had not responded to a request for information.