South Africa has less than a month to wait before the country's best financial services brands are revealed. The annual FIA Awards, scheduled for 2 June 2016, is one of the biggest events on the local financial services calendar. It is a process whereby members of the Financial Intermediaries Association of Southern Africa (FIA) recognise the financial product suppliers that give them the best overall satisfaction based on product, service and relationship.
Why are the FIA Awards important to consumers?
Some context will help in answering this question. First, readers should know that the FIA is a trade association that represents South Africa’s intermediaries. That means that the employee benefit consultant, financial adviser, medical schemes broker or short term insurance broker who advises consumers on the financial product and services that they ‘buy’ are often also members of the FIA.
Second, the financial product suppliers referred to in the opening paragraph are the brands that consumers turn to for all of their financial services requirements. Previous multiple-awards winners include Allan Gray, Discovery, Hollard, Sanlam and Santam to name a few. A consumer who needs life and disability insurance, medical aid cover, personal lines insurance cover, a retirement plan or any other financial solution is best advised by an FIA member who in turn structures a solution made up of product from one or more of these brands.
“The FIA Awards are important because they recognise the financial product suppliers that go the extra mile to assist brokers in delivering top quality services and solutions to their clients, the end-consumer,” says Gareth Stokes, Communications Manager at the FIA.
How does the FIA determine the awards winners?
With the introduction taken care of we can consider the FIA Awards process in greater detail, beginning with how the winners are selected. Each year the FIA contracts with an independent firm to conduct a comprehensive benchmark survey of its member base.
Bluestream Research has conducted the survey over the past 11 years and has delivered one of the most extensive, credible and consistent benchmark surveys available to the domestic financial services market. The significance and authority of the study is acknowledged by FIA members and insurers alike. “We have designed the FIA Awards benchmark to meet classical research standards and have developed, applied and perfected the process over more than a decade,” says Bluestream Research CEO, Pieter Aucamp.
Thousands of telephonic surveys are conducted during which participants answer a set of questions to indicate the level of support, quality of product and relationship they receive from a variety of financial services brands. This is a massive undertaking conducted by a team of 15+ individuals – including project managers, data analysts, IT technicians and dedicated call centre agents. It takes more than 12 weeks to gather and collate the information that makes this annual survey of excellence possible.
The questionnaire typically considers the innovation, competitiveness and the knowledge and experience of product supplier staff; the marketing information and training that a product supplier offers to accurately explain a product to the intermediaries’ clients; and concepts such as brand appeal and the flexibility of the product in terms of accommodating non-standard clients.
“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,” says Aucamp.
The value of good financial advice
Consumers who ‘buy’ financial products and services through an intermediary do so because they appreciate the unique value in the financial advice offered by financial advisers and insurance brokers.
“The FIA Awards is important because it draws attention to the need for quality financial advice in the wider financial services landscape,” says Stokes. He adds that the FIA Awards serve three main purposes: Firstly to provide FIA members with an opportunity to ‘rate’ the product providers that they do business with; secondly to provide a consistent benchmark for product suppliers to assess their performance in the intermediated distribution space; and finally to educate the broader public about the value of financial advice.
“We provide brand recognition to the product providers that go out of their way to empower our members – South Africa’s financial advisers, insurance brokers and consultants – to do what they do best,” concludes Stokes. “And that is to provide excellent financial advice and structured solutions to meet the consuming publics exacting needs.”