Consumers are losing their patience. By which, I mean that consumers in the second decade of the 21st century are used to having everything streamlined and online, and therefore have an expectation that they will never have to wait for anything. Need to fly somewhere? Then book online rather than go to a travel agent, wait for them to process it and send it out to you. Too busy to do your shopping? Then go online and have your supermarket deliver it to you at a time that’s convenient.
The same attitude is now permeating their approach to financial services. For too long, we in the industry have assumed that we can work to the old standards and make customers work off our time-scale. Now more and more customers are insisting that they be given information when they require it instead of at the convenience of the financial services provider.
This is particularly true of the annuities market, which has seen a dramatic expansion of the amount of instant quotes provided via portals to customers, driven by the customer’s need to have instant information and the need for the IFA to trawl the market in order to review a wide range of options before recommending a particular product.
The ability to supply quotes instantly is driven by the wider adoption of industry standard messaging in quotation / illustration products ensuring that it is quicker and easier to bring the annuity illustrations to people via multiple distribution channels. Bespoke solutions do not lend themselves to this approach and also make it difficult for the IFA to provide the straight-through processing that completes the sales process at the speed consumers want.
The number of providers that can now guarantee the majority of their quotes via portals and move straight from accepted quote to policy is growing largely due to the adoption of expert solutions that utilise industry standard messaging in order to allow differing systems to communicate and thereby speed up the process to the level expected by consumers.
This in turn is raising standards in the industry by allowing IFAs to provide a much faster service to customers – a speed which results in significantly lower fees to the end consumer. Increasingly, those who remain outside the standards will slip off the radar of the IFAs who are advising consumers on the annuity product range.
By using software that employs industry standard communication protocols, providers can raise their standards in terms of service levels – one of the factors that the consumer will take into account when deciding upon a purchase. In the 21st century, in particular for commoditised products, customers expect a level of instantaneous service that bespoke solutions can never supply. Using industry standards is, ironically, the only way to raise standards.
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