BACK OF­FICE FALLS SHORT

For many ad­vi­sors, their firm’s back of­fice and ad­min­is­tra­tive sup­port for new busi­ness leaves much to be de­sired

Investment Executive - - CONTENTS - BY JADE HEMEON

Many in­surance ad­vi­sors be­lieve their firm’s back of­fice and ad­min­is­tra­tive sup­port leave much to be de­sired.

se­cur­ing new busi­ness is the lifeblood of any in­surance ad­vi­sor, but in­surance firms are not do­ing enough to grease the rails and fa­cil­i­tate the ap­pli­ca­tion process for their ad­vi­sors — de­spite con­tin­u­ing ad­vances in tech­nol­ogy.

The re­sults of In­vest­ment Ex­ec­u­tives’s 2017 In­surance Ad­vi­sors’ Re­port Card re­veal that firms, on av­er­age, fail to live up to their ad­vi­sors’ ex­pec­ta­tions in the “back of­fice and ad­min­is­tra­tive sup­port for new busi­ness (ap­pli­ca­tion pro­cess­ing)” cat­e­gory.

Case in point: al­though this sup­port is highly im­por­tant to ad­vi­sors (the cat­e­gory was tied for the sec­ond-high­est over­all av­er­age im­por­tance rat­ing, at 9.4), the over­all av­er­age per­for­mance rat­ing ad­vi­sors gave their firms was only 8.0. The dif­fer­ence of 1.4 points be­tween the two rat­ings rep­re­sents the sec­ond-largest “sat­is­fac­tion gap” in this year’s sur­vey.

Com­mon com­plaints from sur­veyed ad­vi­sors pointed to back­of­fice staffing that’s in­ad­e­quate and hu­man re­spon­sive­ness that needs im­prove­ment. Specif­i­cally, ad­vi­sors cited high turnover in back-of­fice de­part­ments, re­sult­ing lack of ex­pe­ri­ence, ded­i­ca­tion, ex­per­tise and ex­e­cu­tion on the part of staff.

“The [back-of­fice staff is] very slow,” says an ad­vi­sor on the Prairies with Water­loo, Ont.-based Sun Life Fi­nan­cial (Canada) Inc. “They lack knowl­edge. We get a lot of right hand not talk­ing to the left hand. There’s no co-or­di­na­tion.”

In ad­di­tion, many ad­vi­sors said they’re not sure where to turn to get their prob­lems fixed and bot­tle­necks un­plugged as their firms move away from pro­vid­ing spe­cial­ized sup­port in this cat­e­gory — even as they in­vest in new tech­nol­ogy.

This is­sue has been of par­tic­u­lar con­cern to ad­vi­sors with sis­ter firms London, Ont.-based Free­dom 55 Fi­nan­cial and Win­nipeg-based Great-West Life As­sur­ance Co. (GWL). The two firms have had is­sues re­lated to the launch of the New Busi­ness Now ap­pli­ca­tion-pro­cess­ing sys­tem.

“For the past few years, the [sys­tem has] been hor­ri­ble,” says an ad­vi­sor in On­tario with Free­dom 55 Fi­nan­cial, which gar­nered the low­est rat­ing in the cat­e­gory, at 6.6. “The [com­pany] made a change in [its] ad­min­is­tra­tive process and it back­fired. [The firm] still is re­cov­er­ing from [the change], as the ser­vice level went down with the ship.”

“[ The back of­fice sup­port] is bru­tal,” adds an ad­vi­sor i n On­tario with GWL, which re- ceived the sec­ond-low­est rat­ing in the cat­e­gory, at 7.0. “The GWL sys­tems al­ways fail and the staff don’t know what they are do­ing. There are huge de­lays.”

GWL has been deal­ing with is­sues in i mple­ment­ing New Busi­ness Now, which is in Phase 2 of its roll­out. Com­plaints in­cluded slow­ness and in­ac­cu­ra­cies in the back of­fice.

“We rec­og­nize we do need to im­prove the over­all turn­around times,” says Mark Foris, vice pres­i­dent of the Wealth and In­surance So­lu­tions En­ter­prise (WISE) network, a unit of Great-West Lifeco Inc., GWL’s and Free­dom 55’s par­ent. “We have sta­bi­lized and we’re at a point in time at which we’re con­fi­dent that we are pro­cess­ing busi­ness as quickly as we did be­fore New Busi­ness Now. But that wasn’t the goal of in­tro­duc­ing New Busi­ness Now; we want to im­prove the time­line.”

There are sev­eral i mprove­ments be­ing in­tro­duced to shorten the time­lines and im­prove the ad­vi­sor ex­pe­ri­ence, in­clud­ing a new, stream­lined ap­pli­ca­tion form, which is in the pi­lot stage, Foris says. That form should be avail­able by this au­tumn, fol­low­ing thor­ough test­ing dur­ing the next few months to iron out the kinks, Foris points out.

In ad­di­tion to the new tech­nol­ogy, GWL is build­ing a “concierge” ser­vice plat­form as part of its value propo­si­tion for ad­vi­sors who are part of the WISE network — and this ser­vice also should be avail­able by early au­tumn, For­tis says. (WISE brings to­gether top ad­vi­sors from Free­dom 55’s wealth and es­tate plan­ning group and GWL’s Gold Key network.)

This new concierge ser­vice will of­fer ad­vi­sors across the coun­try ac­cess to a live per­son, with a team of ex­perts po­si­tioned in var­i­ous places who can be points of con­tact and who can re­solve var­i­ous is­sues that ad­vi­sors face.

“If [ad­vi­sors are] hav­ing chal­lenges, they’ll be able to ac­cess us di­rectly through the concierge ser­vice plat­form,” Foris says, “and we’ll en­sure that the ad­vi­sor ex­pe­ri­ence is im­proved.”

At Free­dom 55, busi­ness vol­umes and ser­vice stan­dards us­ing New Busi­ness Now have sta­bi­lized, but the firm is con­duct­ing a strate­gic re­view to “im­prove the ex­pe­ri­ence” for ad­vi­sors, in­clud­ing tweak­ing the tech­nol­ogy, says Ab­bie MacMil­lan, vice pres­i­dent with the firm.

Al­though there have been im­prove­ments i n ser­vice, the com­pany has not yet achieved the vi­sion orig­i­nally laid out when Free­dom 55 em­barked on the New Busi­ness Now strat­egy, says MacMil­lan, echo­ing Foris’s com­ments on the mat­ter.

“We ob­vi­ously want to im­prove the tech­nol­ogy that’s ex­ist­ing and make sure it’s func­tion­ing to meet the needs of ad­vi­sors and our clients,” MacMil­lan says. “And, of course, we’re al­ways go­ing to be open to look­ing at in­no­va­tive ap­proaches as we move for­ward.”

In con­trast, ad­vi­sors with Mis­sis­sauga, Ont.-based IDC World­source In­surance Network Inc. (IDC WIN) gave that manag­ing gen­eral agency (MGA) the top rat­ing in the cat­e­gory, at 9.5, prais­ing the back-of­fice staff for be­ing sup­port­ive, per­son­able and easy to deal with.

“They’re al­ways on time and they give us feed­back,” says an IDC WIN ad­vi­sor in On­tario.

Col­leagues praised the back of­fice’s ef­fi­ciency, say­ing that new busi­ness ap­pli­ca­tions were pro­cessed within 24 hours.

Sim­i­larly, ad­vi­sors with Toron­to­based PPI Ad­vi­sory com­mended that MGA’s back of­fice for its re­spon­sive­ness, speed and ac­cu­racy.

“If I have a prob­lem, I know who to call,” says an ad­vi­sor in Al­berta with PPI Ad­vi­sory, which re­ceived the sec­ond-high­est rat­ing in the cat­e­gory, at 8.6. “I get a real per­son, [who is] very ser­vice-ori­ented. [That con­tact per­son] quickly un­der­stands the prob­lem that I face and can help re­solve it.”

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