Friday, 14 October 2011

Friends Life's PlanWise disappoints

I was very intrigued by the announcement of the launch of Friends Life's Planwise service. As a paid up owner of a Friends Life plan, it looked like just the sort of thing I could use to keep on top of my finances. Full of hope, I signed up as quickly as I could. The disappointments started almost immediately.

Firstly, I was asked to register as a new user. Not a problem in itself, except that I already had a login on their existing system. Would it have been too much trouble to port that login across? Apparently it was, so I was forced to provide my details again. No sooner had I done so that I was told it would take them 5 days to process my request. 5 Days!? For a simple policy lookup!?

Coincidentally, a few hours later I saw the following tweet:
RT @Cassinthenews: RT @robertjgardner: Challenge is syncing member engagement + technology for seamless operation & implementation
Well, Friends Life had certainly failed to sync their technology with my engagement. Anyway, I had no choice but to wait the 5 days and hope that my initial enthusiasm did not abate too much within that time period.

While we're in waiting mode, it's worth reflecting on the last question I was asked during the registration process:
I would like to register for PlanWise. I understand that in registering, I am agreeing to the removal of any existing adviser(s) linked to my Friends Life plan(s).
Essentially, I was consenting to Friends Life terminating any trail commission they might still have been paying on my plan. As it was a Group Personal Pension (remember that for later), and I'd not actually ever met the adviser, I didn't feel too bad about it. However, I wonder how many people with less knowledge about how our industry works would simply accept that option without giving a second thought to the consequences for an adviser who might have given them, or might even still be giving them, a perfectly good service. Were I an adviser who had been selling Friends Life (or its predecessors) plans, I'd be checking my statements pretty carefully.

Back to my experience: 5 days passed. My engagement had indeed waned to the point that the 5 days passed without my thinking anything of it. I had simply forgotten all about it. Then some more days passed. Eventually, 13 days later (!) I received an e-mail from them. To quote an excerpt:
However, we are unable to offer the PlanWise service to customers with Group Personal Pensions. As your policy falls outside of the requirements we have therefore, been unable to accept your registration with PlanWise.
This "disappointed" me on 4 counts:
  1. Perhaps I simply did not read it carefully enough, but nowhere in the press release or in the online registration process do I recall anything suggesting I might not be eligible, or even that there might be a question around my eligibility of any sort.
  2. As an industry insider, I am lucky enough to know what a "Group Personal Pension" is, but I wonder what proportion of the rest of their customer base knows this. Perhaps some explanation would have been helpful.
  3. I'd entered my plan number on an online application form, yet it took 13 days to look up that number on the system to work out it was a GPP!? 13 seconds would have seemed more plausible.
  4. What possible reason can they have for not accepting GPP plan on their site? In what way, from a financial planning perspective are they any different? Is it that their systems are just not flexible enough (which I take to mean they could not be bothered to solve the technical challenges)? Or is it simply that it is harder to divert the trail commission from a group scheme than it is for an individual plan and they couldn't unravel the commission arrangement or didn't want to risk upsetting the adviser who might then rebroke the scheme?
So it does not look likely that I will be experiencing the many benefits of PlanWise promised by Friends Life anytime soon. That's a disappointment in itself. But perhaps the bigger disappointment is the nagging suspicion that this was never about me or the benefits I could receive, but simply about getting out of paying trail commission after all. Or am I just a cynic?