The Gravy-Train always runs on time
Interacting with product-providers in the context of consumer complaints is always an enlightening experience, one which almost never fails to dispel any notion that our culture is progressing in any substantive sense. It may perhaps be a little simplistic or unfair to blame the entire phenomenon on ill-conceived regulation, but it is clearly a direct by-product of it.
Recently, we enjoyed additional entertainments when ValidPath’s details were supplied to one of the many proliferating ambulance-chasing law firms out there, by an insurer that really needs to tighten up its procedures. In no time at all, the usual ‘shock and awe’ doorstep letter arrived from the law firm, informing us of our heinous crimes in relation to the sale of an endowment policy back in 1985. No stone was left unturned when it came to this literary guilt-trip, and I lost count of the number of clauses and sub-clauses which were included in order to reinforce the nature of the retribution which would be ours if we failed to roll over and cough up the readies.
There were a few problems with this copiously-documented narrative: firstly, ValidPath have never sold endowment policies. And secondly, the plan was sold back in 1985 and ValidPath was not registered as a new company until 2001. Thirdly, the client existed on no database possessed by the Network. It turned out that the insurer had made a quick check on the FCA Register, established some kind of tenuous link, and looked no further. When I sought to discuss the matter with them in a reasonably affable manner, they were overcome with remorse, and it turned out that they are struggling to field hundreds of these egregious redress claims every week. Given that our own experience is that 90% of such claims are entirely spurious, it is clear that we are looking at the financial equivalent of tons of plastic waste washing up on idyllic beaches around the UK. Dealing with such toxic waste is a never-ending and unsustainable project - so it is hardly a surprise that the harassed insurer representatives gratefully grasped the first straw they came across, and chose not to join the dots.
I do understand, but that understanding does not entirely erase irritation and a sense of injustice. Nor does it mitigate a considerable amount of additional work and stress. Who is to blame? Clearly, if the insurer culled data from the FCA Register which led to their inaccurate disclosure, then there is something profoundly unreliable about the data on that Register. And given that the most basic of additional checks would have swiftly demonstrated the falsity of any suggestion of our involvement, one could only wish that product-providers might train their staff a little more effectively when it comes to due diligence. But the daisy-chain of noxiousness doesn’t end there, does it? The whole sordid process is being driven by a particular kind of law (or claims management) firm, one which doesn’t appear to value truth or accuracy, which operates purely on the basis of a kind of unprincipled pragmatism, and personifies casual brutality in its communications. Firms such as these operate the way they do because they clearly believe that the existing regulatory structures empower them to do so in this unaccountable manner. It is unlikely that I am alone in thinking that the lofty and patronising tone of their official communications is as demeaning as the (usually) entirely baseless nature of the accusations.
And, sitting behind all of this is a particular kind of ‘consumer’, the individual who consumes redress welfare as indiscriminately as they may consume the wrong kinds of financial product. For such people there is no sense of personal responsibility or a need to engage with the principles pertaining to their own financial provision, just a driving sense of entitlement. This is why financial planning firms need to exercise discernment so that we may legitimately accord those we deal with with the status of ‘client’.
Please take the required time and effort to ensure that your clients do, genuinely, qualify as 'clients', for that should embody a very special kind of two-way relationship.