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A Change in Providers

Client Services

Nevin AdamsWe really hadn’t been focused on making a change, though the subject had come up from time to time. 

In fact, considering how long we had been thinking about making a change without actually doing anything about it, the change itself felt almost accidental in its suddenness. So sudden, in fact, that, in hindsight, I found myself wondering if we were “hasty” – perhaps too hasty.

Make no mistake – we had been happy enough with our current provider, certainly at first. In fact, we had been with them for a number of years and had, over time, expanded that relationship to include a fully bundled package of services. That made certain aspects simpler, of course – though we discovered pretty quickly that the “bundle” was presented as being more seamless than it actually was. Still, net/net, we were ahead of the game financially, and certainly no worse on the delivery side; we were just a bit disappointed in the disconnect between the sale and the service levels.

And all was fine for a while – or so it seemed. Looking back, there were signs of trouble that we could have seen – if we had been looking. There were unexpected charges on the invoices, and services that we were sure had been described as being part of the bundle that turned out not to be. There was the monitoring service that was supposed to be in place that we found out wasn’t – quite by accident, and months later. Over time we cut back on the services included, but the prices just kept going up. We were, quite simply, getting less and paying more, and getting less than we thought we were paying for. And it grated on us.

In hindsight, perhaps we should have been more vocal about our discontent. I’ve wondered what might have happened if we had called up and questioned those invoice charges, or made a bigger fuss about the sporadic outages. But, in the overall scheme of things, the charges weren’t large, just not what we expected. We figured that perhaps we had been the ones to misunderstand – and didn’t want to look “stupid” by calling to complain about a charge that some fine print in some document somewhere said was perfectly legitimate. Meaning always to go check that out sometime, the time to do so never materialized. Instead, we grumbled among ourselves about how aggravating it was – and how we should do something about it… sometime.

Unfortunately, change is painful and time-consuming. The emotional and fiscal toll these changes took, while annoying, simply wasn’t enough to put change at the top of the to-do list. So, we talked about a change – and every so often asked friends and acquaintances about their experience(s). Of course, it was hard to find someone else who was in exactly the same situation – and a surprising number simply empathized with our plight, being stuck in much the same situation themselves. All of which conveyed – to us, anyway – a sense that, uncomfortable as we might be with the current service package, we were probably about as well-positioned as we could be.

Then, one day, out of the blue, an opportunity presented itself. We weren’t looking for it, as I said earlier, but the months of frustration left us open to a casual message from an enterprising salesman – one who not only knew his product, he clearly knew the problems that others like us had with our current provider.

He did more than empathize with our situation. He did not pump me for information about what I was looking for, or what I didn’t like about my current situation. Rather, he was able to speak about the features/benefits that his firm offered… and, to my ears anyway, essentially ran through the list of concerns I had – but had not articulated – with our current situation. In fact, before our conversation was done, he had pointed out to me things that his firm offered as a matter of course that the current provider hadn’t even mentioned in all the years we had been associated – things I had assumed we couldn’t get, or couldn’t get without paying a lot more.

We made the change two weeks ago – and while it’s early yet, I’m thrilled with the results.

Ultimately, our former provider set themselves up by taking our business for granted, for (apparently) caring more about attracting new customers than in attending to our concerns, and for (apparently) assuming that “quiet” meant satisfied.

Provider changes can be fraught with uncertainty, if not peril. Little wonder that it often takes a pretty serious misstep (or a consistent history of smaller missteps) on the part of an incumbent to warrant such a response. So, are your clients happy, content, and “quiet”? 

Or have they just quit complaining?

Note: For the record, the provider change recounted above involves my cable company.

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All comments
Ellen Lander
5 days 5 hours ago
Ha!!! Loved the surprise ending! I didn't see it coming! The whole time, I was trying to decide what bundled services you had signed up for. But a to changing recordkeepers, yeah, it's not something that our clients look forward to doing and frankly, the ones left standing are really good and haven't given us much reason to seriously consider a change. What will be interesting is to see how forced change - e.g. Principal's acquiring Wells - will perhaps force change. I have two large clients ($150 million +) - one with Wells and one with Principal. Both are doing RFP's (dubious since how reliable are our answers from either PFG or Wells) but wondering how incented they are to actually consider a change. We see it as "change is a-coming".... do you do it proactively or reactively.
John Hare
5 days 6 hours ago
Just think how plans sponsors feel who are not as knowledgeable about retirement plan issues or providers as are you. "Over time we cut back on the services included, but the prices just kept going up. We were, quite simply, getting less and paying more, and getting less than we thought we were paying for. And it grated on us." Record keeping is becoming the self check out lane at the supermarket. 1) More technology facing 2) Possibly more efficient 3) More responsibility on the plan sponsor. Competitive pricing and the associated squeezed margins are pushing ad hoc fees and declining service from what was expected or received previously. I am seeing potentially overstated responses in RFPs fairly regularly. Thanks for a glimpse of the frustration from the other side of the desk.