When an insurance company gives a damn…

I’m used to the fake smiles from marketing executives on conference stands and the unctuous statements about customer care that leak from the pens of IGCs and trustees. I have grown skeptical (even cynical) about cultural statements about treating customers fairly to a point that I trust nothing that comes from big corporates. Unless what comes, comes from people who actually mean it.

A case in point is over how insurance companies have managed to remodel history to explain their response to the pandemic this time last year. My memory is of wholesale shut-downs , of L&G and Aegon refusing to accept incoming calls from anxious policyholders seeing their pension pots collapse in value and of a helplessness as disaster recovery plans failed to swing into action (the pandemic being the wrong kind of disaster).

There is however one exception to my cynicism and that is Standard Life. I have made comments about Standard Life’s response to the pandemic, I made them last March and I made them in February in response to David Hare’s interim IGC statement. Frankly I saw Standard Life as no different from their peers but I’m going to change that view and admit on this blog that Standard Life is different.

Here is the text of a mail I received yesterday from Standard Life’s head of workplace , Gail Izat, someone who I respect as having a superior grasp of almost everything to do with workplace pensions than me!


Thank you for responding to the points I raised, explaining your thinking and rationale. I wanted to provide a little more context on our response.

While I agree that we did not have a recovery plan that involved absolutely everyone working from home, home working was part of our recovery plan for many areas of our business and we moved very quickly to expand that to support everyone within our customer operations teams.

We started planning towards this in advance of the decision to work from home, having pre-empted requirements, with testing taking place around the start of March. That gave us confidence that we could all operate from home. At the same time, we increased the number of people trained on secure message to allow us to maximise capacity across multiple channels.

All our lines were open from the moment colleagues started working from home at the end of March, all call demands were answered on the first day and we continued to maintain a good level of service.

It is fair to say that in the first couple of weeks of working from home in April, due to the ongoing volume of more complex requirements from customers who were concerned over market  volatility, there were a couple of pockets within our customer operations where the telephony infrastructure was challenged for very limited periods. But when a capacity issue occurred, we ensured we put customers first and reduced the number of colleagues outside of our customer teams using the system during opening hours, so we could continue to support customers while we extended capacity. We quickly introduced new technology that continues to be resilient and supports our home working.

There are many different data points that we can provide that demonstrate that there was not a significant deterioration in our service when we started working from home. When there were a couple of challenges, we quickly resolved them and returned to normal. Unlike some other organisations, we did not completely turn off our telephony support for a period.

Here are some key points that I hope bring this to life.

Q2 2020

  • 94% of non-automated mail demand was completed within target, and we answered 94.5% of calls in Q2, 76.4% within target.
  • Over our entire customer operations, 77% of our  telephony service were within our SLA in April and 79% in May, looking at workplace pension customers these figures were 89% for both months.
  • Looking at admin across our business,  95% of our service levels were within our SLAs in April and 97% May respectively.
  • Customer satisfaction scores remained strong: PSAT 91%,  EASE 84% (% of callers rating their experience 4 or 5 out of 5)

I hope you’ll understand why I feel it isn’t a fair reflection to suggest that we were in amongst a pack that wasn’t in a position to support customers as normal until Q3, when in fact we maintained service levels as a matter of priority throughout. It has been a major achievement for our business, particularly our IT team and our customer teams.


Writing that note , which was sent way past the point when I knock off work, shows a commitment to defending her business, staff and her reputation with her customers which goes way beyond what happens on the stands at conferences.

For me – that kind of commitment says more about leadership than any number of appearances on panels, or in corporate videos and podcasts.

It shows someone who is determined to speak her mind on something she feels strongly about and , though I have no way of substantiating this, I take her at her word.

Thanks Gail, thanks Standard Life. You may have lost last March’s battle but you are winning the war. Britain, Scotland in particular need Standard Life and if this is the standard it is setting, then I am back on side.

About henry tapper

Founder of the Pension PlayPen,, partner of Stella, father of Olly . I am the Pension Plowman
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