Personally I am quite grateful to banks and the practice of conditional lending. If banks hadn't been doing this and luring small commercial clients away from brokers then I wouldn't have written a story late last year exposing the whole grubby little affair and have consequently won Scoop of the Year at the British Insurance Brokers' Association Journalist Awards.
Pushing vanity and ego aside for a moment though, the fact that I have been approached by several brokers and told that, 10 months on, this practice is still going on in certain quarters is pretty galling to say the least. Coupled with the fact that Santander have had to pull Aviva's protection products off the shelf this week because its staff can't sell them properly, it really does make you wonder what banks are playing at.
Surely the whole payment protection debacle would have been enough of a wakeup call for banks that insurance isn't really their forte and they should leave it well alone. It does seem to me that some banks see it as an easy add on to services they already supply. They encourage inexperienced, frontline staff to push products or create situations that they don't even begin to understand. The said staff are given incentives and targets to meet and if that means pushing a person or a SME to take out insurance they don't need or to switch brokers when there's no benefit involved whatsoever then so be it. It's just a number on a sheet.
I have been writing about insurance for over two years and there are still achingly large gaps in my understanding. I wouldn't dream of being able to offer advice on what insurance would be best for anyone. So why do certain banks think they can adopt this role and abuse their brands in such a manner? That said, it is quite a sad indictment that, even after everything that has happened to financial services in the past few years, consumers probably still do trust banks more than the insurance industry.
It worries me that banks don't seem to be learning from their mistakes. If Santander has held its hands up and admitted that frontline staff are not up to the job of selling insurance, then it begs the question of how prevalent this problem actually is. If you think about individual branches of different banks dotted across the country, it is likely, as with everything, that quality varies dramatically and that could mean that there is some really frightening incompetence out there.
What can we do to tackle the problem though? It's difficult but as you can see in the story I have written today, brokers have experienced these situations with banks but have also managed to hold onto their clients. Why? Because of the service and expertise they can offer which banks will never be able to compete with.