The last thing on the minds of the thousand-plus industry stakeholders who will attend the 2014 Financial Intermediaries Association of Southern Africa (FIA) Awards gala dinner on 12 June is how much planning and effort goes into determining the category winners.
Few are aware that a team of 15+ individuals - including project managers, data analysts, IT technicians and dedicated call centre agents - take 10 weeks to gather and collate the information that make this annual benchmark of excellence possible. Even fewer know that the entire process has, for the past nine years, been peer reviewed by two independent academics.
This year, the team placed more than 23000 calls to complete 2710 quantitative interviews and rate 6417 contracts, making the 2014 FIA Awards one of the most exhaustive benchmark surveys conducted in South Africa today. The interview results were then incorporated and rolled up into a global measurement platform from which different segments could be placed under the microscope.
"The FIA Awards benchmark survey is designed to meet classical research standards and can be compared to preceding surveys due to the consistent methodology that we have developed, applied and perfected over almost a decade," says Bluestream Research CEO, Pieter Aucamp. Bluestream has been responsible for the FIA Awards survey process for nine of the event's 16 years.
"The survey process begins with identifying and contacting FIA members from a full member list provided for this purpose by the FIA," says Aucamp. "These participants are then asked to rate various product suppliers on the basis of their business interactions with them."
A comprehensive set of questions ensures that each survey participant provides feedback on the product quality, service quality, relationship quality and overall satisfaction levels with one or more product supplier. Typical measures in the assessment include innovation, competitiveness and the knowledge and experience of staff.
"The idea behind the awards has always been to recognise those financial services firms that go out of their way to empower our members, South Africa's risk and financial advisers, to do what they do best," says Justus van Pletzen, CEO of the FIA. He says that product suppliers who assist advisers in providing quality financial advice and ongoing services to their clients, the consuming public, quickly rise to the top.
The recent introduction of Treating Customers Fairly principles has raised awareness around product quality. Advisers expect competitive products that perform as promised. They also expect the marketing information and training that a product supplier offers to assist them in accurately explaining the solution to their clients. Concepts such as brand appeal and the flexibility of the product
in terms of accommodating non-standard clients are also important selling tools.
Service quality is typically rated on how the product supplier deals with queries and problems as well as how effectively they communicate changes, improvements and other administrative requirements to advisers and their clients.
"Advisers need the product suppliers to take care of day-to-day issues efficiently and accurately," says Van Pletzen. "They also expect the product to perform as promised at claims stage - if a supplier fails to perform these basic functions then the millions of rand spent on brand development and product innovation is entirely wasted."
A sound financial planning business is built on relationships. And there are many relationships that need to be built and nurtured to ensure the best possible service to consumers of financial services product.
"The relationship between adviser and client is crucial to ensure the sustainability of a financial services practice," he concludes. "The reality is that the adviser's good standing with his or her client hinges on his ability to construct a suitable financial plan and implement that plan on an ongoing basis, which in turn hinges on a good relationship between adviser and product supplier."
There have been major changes in financial advice-giving since the 2004 implementation of the FAIS Act. "Tighter regulation has cleaned up the industry and ensured better quality financial advice for all," concludes Aucamp. "What the FIA Awards does is create a competitive environment for product suppliers to outdo each other in terms of their overarching product offering to advisers - and by
extension to the end consumer."
A product supplier that performs consistently in the FIA Awards has the qualities that advisers need to meet their clients' needs.