Justifying our existence 

One of our Member Firms has received another of those 'PPI Misselling' letters from a claims-management firm (CMC), registered under the Ministry of Justice (MoJ).  Due to the sheer volume of these iniquitous and entirely spurious documents, we've built up quite a nice working relationship with the MoJ, who are keenly interested in all such instances, where it is apparent that the claims-management firm is operating in a way that betrays a complete absence of due process.

On this occasion, a little bell rang in the back of my mind and - sure enough - when I checked our records, I discovered that we had received an identical letter, from the same CMC, for the same client, in June 2013.  We had dealt with the matter fully and formally back then: it was a complete waste of time then, and it is a complete waste of time now.  The only change is a new client signature and a new date on the attached authorisation.

Over the years, I have developed a strange mindset when presented with documents that irritate me.  On this occasion, I took the time to compare the 2013 and 2014 versions of the letter.  The differences were minor ('Scarlet Reclaims' changes to 'Scarlet Services'), but the things which stayed the same were of far more interest:
  • whoever drafted the letter exhibits a profound level of illiteracy;
  • the fact that the 2014 version replicates the typos and poor grammar of the 2013 version indicates that the firm does not keep its documents under review;
  • a disparaging approach towards detail - the target of the complaint is a quite different firm (from our Member) in both cases;
  • evidence of the use of data-base/mailmerge systems which allow documentation to be generated containing spurious content, without (apparently) a need for sentient human intervention (assuming that such a thing exists within this CMC);
  • the recourse to threat - the inclusion of false accusations, which a moment of considered reflection would have revealed to the author were insupportable;
  • a kind of hardboiled insouciance in relation to the facts - this CMC had their answer in 2013, but this was clearly no obstacle to repeating their original fictions again in 2014;
  • assuming that the MoJ took action (as they indicated they would) back in 2013, it seems quite apparent that the principals of this particular CMC are paying little attention.
This episode, in microcosm, hints at all that is grim and valueless within the financial services and legal marketplaces.  It supplies reasonably convincing proof that, whatever it is that regulation achieves in practice, it (apparently) has little impact on the ethics and professionalism of regulated entities.  Where there is a commitment to particular practices, for their own sake, individuals and firms will find their way of working around the rulebook.

But there is a lesson here, too, for us as IFAs.  Clearly, this CMC has a process, one which it is determined to follow.  And as a Network, our emphasis over the years has been on having good processes in place - partly to ensure the quality of our service offering, and partly to underpin good compliance.  Our processes, however, are only as good as the data which informs them - when they float free, in a world where the facts or principles are unimportant, where detail is irrelevant, and where staff simply don't care about the people concerned, then they end up becoming a form of abuse.
Kevin Moss, 07/03/2014