One of the immediate effects of the first lockdown last year was a near collapse in the customer service provided by most Providers. By Providers we mean the investment companies who hold and manage pension and investments on behalf of clients, all of whom are major organisations.
Initially it seemed understandable. Who could have predicted the impact of the pandemic and its effects?
The government locked down the country and issued a stay-at-home message. We were asked to only go into work if it was absolutely necessary. A list of key businesses was drawn up and financial services was on the list.
Providers had to work out how to maintain service levels to clients whilst protecting their staff and complying with the new rules. We appreciated that it was a difficult task to manage and accepted the new hold massages informing us that companies “were unable to answer your call right now due to the impact of the pandemic”. Fair enough.
But how long should we wait and why is it important that service standards are maintained?
Quite simply because time doesn’t stand still. It takes no account of circumstances. People still age at the same rate and retirement dates come and go. For those looking to retire and transfer their pensions, this remains time critical. Most transfers are time sensitive. Delays can mean the loss of benefits and in an uncertain financial market, delays can also mean that money is being lost.
For the first three months of lockdown #1, we accepted the delays. But on the return to normality last summer, we started to get increasingly frustrated by the lack of delivery and service we were experiencing. This has continued through to today with too many companies, still hiding behind the impact of the pandemic which is now over 12 months old.
We believe that it is unacceptable to have to wait on hold for over half an hour just to have a simple query answered. Our longest hold was 2 hours and 42 minutes!
It is also unacceptable to wait over a month for a response to a simple writing request for information.
We have now had enough and have embarked on an active programme of complaints on behalf of clients. There don’t seem to be any other options.
The complaint process is structured. Providers have a certain length of time to respond and there are regulators to approach if responses are unsatisfactory, depending on the Provider.
So far results have varied.
For example, today we received an apology from Prudential (the 2-hour 42 minute wait company), who are going to send our client £100 in compensation for the delay. Importantly in this instance they have also acknowledged that they will also be responsible if the client has suffered any financial loss due to the delay.
Yesterday, we had an admission of error from another Provider who had miscalculated the value of a client’s pension value. This has taken over 18 months to resolve (so pre-pandemic), but it was worth the wait. The miscalculation was the small matter of £600,000.
We will leave you to think about that!
It’s not just us who are having these problems, its industry wide.
Pension Bee have reported that over 20% of their customers have had to wait over three months to access their pensions. And shockingly almost 15% of their customers had to wait five months or longer.
However, some advisers think that lockdown has helped to improv the industry. Providers have had to improve their data access systems to allow them to work from home, which should improve matters when they return to the office. And there have been some changes for the better like accepting electronic rather than wet ink signatures.
The latest Complaints List has also now just been released.
Top of the list was Aviva with over 10,000 upheld complaints over the 6-month period from July to December 2020. Plus, another 12,000 complaints still being investigated. Aviva argue that despite the numbers they are not that bad, equating to only 1.5 complaints per 1000 customers. Do they have a point? Should we expect companies to get it wrong, especially big ones?
#2 on the list was Prudential (our old friend) and #3 was Scottish Widows.
In terms of advice firms, St James Place retains its top spot.