Tim Wilson identifies six key principles to ensure fair treatment of broker partners.

There can be little doubt that the FSA’s TCF (Treating Customers Fairly) initiative is having a wide-ranging impact on insurance brokers and will continue to do so in the coming months. With the first deadline for the principles-based regulation already passed on 31 March, and a larger wave of assessments set to hit the industry in December, it is vital that we as an industry understand what TCF really means for all market participants.

Indeed, TCF does not just provide brokers with an incentive to get their houses in order, it also changes the game for services providers. Although not directly customer-focused, premium finance providers offer a vital support network to the broking community – even more so in the midst of a credit crunch, where banks are more reluctant to lend to businesses than they might have been otherwise.

As a result, we too must look to interpret what TCF means for our clients and the industry as a whole, and adapt our own practices to ensure we are as supportive as possible to our brokers when the time comes to implement the FSA’s guidelines.

Bearing those points in mind it leads us to ask the question, what does TCF mean to our clients and to us as a service provider? Like the FSA, we have identified six important principles that should underpin all service providers’ dealings with their brokers in a post-TCF marketplace. Our message to brokers is that this is the minimum that you should be expecting from anyone who is pitching for any aspect of your business.

• Be clear and transparent in all client communications and marketing material. It is vital that all correspondence with clients is accurate, clear and easy to read and that it gives concise and understandable messages, avoiding jargon. In the premium finance market, we’ve attempted to offer accurate client payment schedules and contact details, easy access to background information through the internet, leaflets and good old-fashioned conversations with our clients.

• Be flexible and show empathy and consideration in dealing with customers and clients. Without process and procedures we would all be lost, but even though our rules are there to help us, we must not forget that our clients and their customers are human too, and can be subject to the trials and tribulations that make life complicated.

Rather than instantly reaching for the red card when circumstances prove to be testing, we’re trying to instill a culture that every effort should be made to provide flexibility and consideration for client needs. In our case, we have attempted to allow our clients to identify a preferred payment date which fits in with the shape of their business rather than vice versa. And we’re also offering a 24/7 client payment line for arrears on personal lines business. There will be similar opportunities for brokers to make these kind of flexible concessions, which don’t cost much but can make all the difference between a happy client and a lost client.

“TCF does not just provide brokers with an incentive to get their houses in order, it also changes the game for services providers.

Tim Wilson

• Resolve mistakes and queries as quickly and fairly as possible. We are all liable to the odd mistake and will not always get it right, but we think service providers should listen to the views of our clients and act upon them, whether they are complimentary or critical.

• Provide support and guidance to help our customers offer good service and advice to their clients. Providers need to give brokers every opportunity to offer good advice to their clients and, therefore, must educate and inform them about services via a variety of different services, whether it be paperless facilities, notifications, sharing best practice, regular newsletters, intranets, exhibitions or training.

It is a service provider’s duty to ensure brokers are aware of the product, how it works and how it will benefit the customer in the long-term.

• Obtain regular feedback from our customers on service and products. We can always improve our offerings and should always check that levels of service and the type of products being offered remain of a high standard. Staying in regular contact with clients is critical to be able to paint a picture of how we can change our service to make it easier for brokers to meet the needs of their customers.

• Provide stability as well as service. Now more than ever, brokers want reliability and stability from their providers. In the case of premium finance, this is particularly acute in the current credit squeeze. An additional short term credit line is of great benefit to broker clients whose cash resources are under pressure.

Brokers, as ever, need providers to add value to their business delivering both a high quality of service for clients, and income earning opportunities. But the added dimension now is confidence that the financer has secure access to capital, and the financial resources to see brokers and their clients through the current crisis. IT

Tim Wilson is sales and marketing director at Close Premium Finance.