Recognising excellence

02 June 2016Jonathan Faurie
Gareth Stokes, FIA Communications Manager

Gareth Stokes, FIA Communications Manager

Tonight sees the first of many high profile social events when the Financial Intermediaries Association of Southern Africa (FIA) hosts its Annual Award Dinner which celebrates industry excellence over the previous calendar year.

This year may prove to be one of the most important installments of the awards as it celebrates the achievement of companies who are operating in a tough economic climate. FAnews caught up with Pieter Aucamp, Bluestream CEO (the company who conducts the survey to determine the winners of the awards), and Gareth Stokes, FIA Communications Manager to find out more about the significance of this year’s awards.

A methodology true to its objectives?

Bluestream has been involved with the awards for the past eleven years using the same methodology to survey the industry to determine who should win the awards. We asked Aucamp if this methodology is still relevant today.

“The methodology is still relevant and true to the purpose it was designed for, namely to observe and measure intermediary feedback on their experience with the product suppliers’ overall performance on service quality, product quality and relationship quality. We have made some minor changes to improve the process over the years, but these were mostly in the early stages of the awards,” said Aucamp.

A question of reflection

Operating in the current economic climate is not easy. Growth is hard to come by as is client retention. We asked Stokes if the effects of the harsh environment are being reflected in the performance of the 2016 award winners.

“The FIA Awards reflects FIA members’ experiences in their interactions with various financial services brands. Our members are surveyed specifically on the product quality, service quality and relationship quality that they enjoy with the product suppliers that they conduct business with. Although we agree that the prevailing economic conditions are tough, there is nothing from the survey results to suggest that the level of service given by the winning product suppliers has been affected by the harsh operating environment,” said Stokes.

He adds that the FIA has widened its view to give recognition to a wider spectrum of products within the industry. “For example, this year we added a 10th category called Product Supplier of the Year – Health Insurance. This category reflects the growth of hospital cash plans and similar insurance products that exist alongside the medical scheme industry. We have also changed the names of two of our Awards categories to better reflect the investment landscape, namely Product Supplier of the Year – Investment Product Lump Sum and Product Supplier of the Year – Investment Product Savings.”

What about lower income earners?

The Financial Services Board (FSB) is on a major campaign of regulatory reformation which hopes to improve the landscape of the financial services industry by increasing the inclusion of a wider sector of the population. This includes lower income earners. We asked Stokes if there is a possibility of the FIA supporting this in future by adding a category specifically aimed at product suppliers that focus on this sector.

“The FIA is committed to the broad transformation objectives being championed by both National Treasury and the FSB. The FIA is represented on a number of transformation committees, including the Financial Sector Charter. We certainly support initiatives to improve access to appropriate financial products among lower income earners. In this regard, the FIA recently merged the Forum for Assistance Business into our structures and we will certainly consider adding a category for product suppliers in this space in the future,” said Stokes.

He adds that there are some challenges to consider, most notably the difficulty in charging for advice in the micro-insurance space due to the low premiums that many of these products attract. “Bear in mind that we can only conduct a meaningful survey in this space once enough of our members are active there.”

Can we expect an intermediary focus?

While the FIA is for the intermediary, the Awards mainly focus on the product providers that intermediaries work with to conduct their business effectively and efficiently.

We asked Stokes if the FIA is considering celebrating the achievements of intermediaries in BREAK these awards. “This is a question that our members have asked us from time to time, and the possibility has been discussed by the FIA Board. We agree that celebrating individual achievements is worthwhile, but are conscious of the challenges in conducting a survey of the broader consuming public to rank FIA member firms. It would require that a second survey be undertaken among a fairly large sample to ensure a meaningful result,” he said.

This challenge is a pertinent one and is a reason why the FIA also cannot, at this stage, celebrate the achievement of independent brokerages.

Editor’s Thoughts:
The FIA Awards are one of the benchmarks in the industry that celebrates product provider achievement; and this is important. But while the challenges regarding the celebration of intermediaries are acknowledged, a way around it needs to be found. We need to celebrate the achievements of brokers who are the vital link between product providers and their policyholders.  Please comment below, interact with us on Twitter at @fanews_online or email me your thoughts

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Added by Barry, 02 Jun 2016
There are many independent brokers who provide a superb service to the public. A survey is not the way to recognize service excellence as the larger national brokers will be favoured because they simply have a much wider client base. The answer would be for the FIA to appoint a properly qualified and experienced pancake of judges and then to call for member firms to apply to be judged. That way everyone has a chance.
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