Why I hate most life insurance company back offices. Shame on Manulife.

Every now and then I have the experience of needing to deal with the back offices of a life company, usually for an old client or to get policy holder service to handle an issue. Today I had the phone call that reminded me in a wonderful fashion why I refuse to write a contract with Manulife or it's subsidiary John Hancock. A little back ground is in order.

I started in the life insurance industry 27 years ago in policy issue and policyholder service. I know what a back office is like and I know the pressures they face. It's not the easiest job in the world but we aren't talking about splitting the atom or raising the dead either. It requires organization, discipline, computer systems and committed management. Further, my first life company that got me started in sales and nurtured my career was Manulife and I had for many years great affection and respect for that firm. It created great products and it's financial integrity was outstanding. However, I stopped selling their products well over 10 years ago when it became almost impossible to get timely and accurate policyholder service from their branches, and subsequently their back offices when the branch system was dramatically reorganized. I would spend hours begging for calls back, computer access to accounts, client statements, etc. It was a company literally 15 years behind it's peers in being able to process things in a timely fashion so I just stopped giving them business.

You will, if you are ever crazed over why back offices are a disaster love this link to a discussion at a LOMA conference back in 2005 presented by Mary Anne Mooney, VP of Individual Operations for Manulife. You can access the link by clicking here. I'm sure Ms. Mooney has her hands full, and in fact mentions the issue of taking over legacy computer systems from far flung divisions that, in her own words, "surely date back to the 1960's", but the thing that really cracked me up was her description of the intense debate internally over their mission statement of whether or not to say they provide "excellent service." Apparently the word excellent made too many people in Toronto nervous as it implies, well, it implies "excellent". Instead they decided to settle on "prompt, efficient service", which as she says means we keep our promises. This is great reading if you want to know why some companies, despite lots of money and really serious efforts by talented people, still can't get the "service thing" to be excellent.

Fast forward to today. My wife, a policyholder, had requested a policy loan on her contract. She faxed the request to the company 15 days ago. She was told there was a 5 day turn around on these but it could take ten days. Never mind I can get the same loans from virtually every other company with in 48 hours, I figured i'd let it go. So, after the mail came today and no check, I called the company again. ( Side note, I called their back office on two occasions in the past week and once got a recording they were closed due to weather, the other time their phone system was down and to call back the next day, this from a major financial firm.) I got to the policyholder service department and was informed that the check "was in process" and that "Carol had it but she isn't picking up her phone." No I am not making this up. I informed them I was a producer, that this wasn't acceptable and that it was now 14 days and I wanted the money out today. I was told, no, I can't promise you anything, ( remember that "excellent" debate?) and if you want it overnighted you need to give me your overnight account information.

So, I now gave her my overnight account numbers and information so it could be expressed out at my expense, and then I asked her to get me "Carol's" direct number or email, which I was told she couldn't do. I of course asked for a supervisor and was told, there is no supervisor here that can help you or do this any faster then Carol, and was I done? 

Yes, my dear, who ever you were, I'm done with Manulife and John Hancock. For good. Forever. Any firm that invests so little in their back office, has such meager accountability, who settles for low expectations vs. excellence and couldn't care less that a policyholder or agent is disappointed deserves none of my money or my clients money. It's too bad because I have this nostalgic place in my heart for Manulife, but I think 15 years was plenty of time to change the back office and corporate culture. I'm waiting now for "Carol" to call me back, but i'll wager lunch the phone never rings here at my office and that the check won't be expressed out today or tomorrow either. What a farce and fiasco of a back office, particularly when compared to peer companies like Pacific Life, SunAmerica, AXA and Lincoln National. Shame on Manulife.  

Posted on April 10, 2007 .