Providing impactful service to our clients

Delivering peace of mind

Alexander Forbes is entrusted with the financial well-being of over 1 million retirement fund individuals. We strive to ensure that our products and services are of such a quality, relevance and impact that for these individuals our actions translate into peace of mind.

We provide a very wide range of products and services to an even greater diversity of clients – diverse in terms of age, income, race, gender, sector and type of employment, geography, needs and expectations. Historically, these products and services have been delivered to the individual through his or her representatives and have mostly been designed to meet the perceived needs of large groups of individuals.

These representatives have traditionally been Alexander Forbes’ clients – the people who place pension and other collective assets with us for administration and management and from whom we also derive consulting and actuarial fees. While in the recent past we dealt mostly with institutions, today we also interact directly with many individuals and small business owners – our retail clients.

In the past, employers committed themselves to defined benefits, a commitment that has been largely replaced by defined contributions. Since defined contributions became the norm, asset managers’ earnings have grown substantially but the ultimate beneficiary of the asset being administered and managed has faced a more uncertain future: in most cases, less financial well-being and less peace of mind. Our 2016 – 2020 strategic intent commits us to securing financial well-being for individual members – by delivering impactful services.

Award-winning, reliable administration

Alexander Forbes’ institutional clients depend on us to perform administrative services on their behalf. We are market leaders in administration and consulting as our winning of various independently conferred awards attests (see here). More pertinently, the overwhelming majority of our institutional clients renew their business relationships with us (in 2014/15 the client retention of Alexander Forbes Financial Services was 99% and Investment Solutions was 98%).

These awards and retention rates, coupled with our ability to regularly outperform our competitors in winning new business, speak to our independently acknowledged excellence in administering and consulting managing assets and giving institutions great advice.

Our group commitment to service excellence

For customers


Clear timelines

Regular feedback

Suitable solution


I will be heard
and my query
dealt with

I will be told what will
happen and
by when

I will receive clear and
regular feedback

The solution will be fit for
purpose and provide value


For employees

I will answer my phone
within three rings

I will take ownership
even if I can’t resolve it

I will not let the sun set
on a complaint

I will respond within 24

I will give clear timelines
and requirements to
resolve the matter

I will manage
expectations through
regular feedback

I will deliver on
my promise

I will hold my colleagues

I will keep it simple

If the solution does not
suit the client, we will
make it easy for her to
have recourse


Delighting the customer

In 2014, AFFS established a customer experience framework to help the business measure:

  • overall customer experience;
  • customer effort – how easy it is to do business with Alexander Forbes; and
  • net promoter scores (how likely individuals were to recommend Alexander Forbes).

Secondary measures help to evaluate customer experience in terms of their expectation, ownership of a problem or issue and communication. Measuring customer experience will establish a baseline to ensure consistent measurement across the business in future.

AFFS employees were committed to improving customer service in 2014/15; one outcome was the development of a Service Charter which spells out a number of commitments.

AFFS sets itself demanding service level targets. These are some of those targets and how the business performed against them in 2014/15:

  • Answering 95% of all calls (actual: 87%).
  • Resolving 80% of all call centre interactions on the first interaction (77%).
  • Resolving 90% of all complaints within one working day (83%).

Our achievements on customer satisfaction, which have been repeated and improved upon over many years, are important measures of our service delivery, speaking to the quality of our day-to-day operations and administration. But they do not necessarily speak to the direct impact that our work, experience and insight have on the ordinary fund member or private client.

To achieve impactful service among contributing individuals, AFFS has deployed a member education unit which advises individual members on their retirement and health benefits. In 2014/15, this unit reached almost 50% more individuals than in the previous year.

Member education in numbers

Many of those who embrace their financial well-being and those approaching retirement age in particular have derived great benefit from these interactions. This contact between Alexander Forbes and members on the ground has mostly been of a limited extent and largely been undertaken in accordance with service level agreements.

Alexander Forbes is a leader in financial well-being research in South Africa – a capability with profound scope for application in markets from Namibia to Kenya where regulatory environments are fast developing to the point that hundreds of thousands of individuals can now access and benefit greatly from what we have to offer.

Our investments in knowledge gathering (and sharing) include:

  • Benefits Barometer: a comprehensive industry-leading research publication on employee benefits matters in South Africa. The publication creates awareness among all stakeholders of the key issues affecting individuals and their financial well-being. It also promotes constructive dialogue to develop effective employee benefit systems covering healthcare, risk benefits, retirement benefits and financial education.
  • Life Gauge™: a unique suite of analytical tools that help corporates and trustees to analyse the financial profile of their individual members and employees. Our consultants use these tools to create employee benefits strategies.
  • Hot Topics: a series of thought-leadership forums that provide employers, trustees and HR directors with our latest insights on best practices emerging both globally and within South Africa. These forums address issues emerging around pension and healthcare reform, legislative and tax changes, and ideas emerging on how to better address member needs.
  • Member Watch™: our extensive research database that captures the latest trends in employee benefit practices and member behaviours in South African retirement funds.
  • Half Way There in September 2014: Investment Solutions published Half Way There in September 2014. Authored by Chris Hart and Glenn Silverman, the book considers various nations making up the BRICS economic alliance, focusing on economic factors driving economies as well as the influence of their unique socio-political landscapes. With almost 2 500 copies sold, it has become the leading business book on the subject matter.

The true state of financial well-being

Our research translates into a keen understanding of our members’ employee benefits and impact on the individual. For some years it has been apparent that, despite our best efforts and those of their representatives, South African employees’ financial well-being is far from what it should be.

Tellingly, half of individuals changing jobs do not preserve their savings. And only 10% of South African fund members will retire with a net replacement ratio of 75% or better – where this all-important ratio represents their pre-retirement incomes net of benefits. And, long before they retire, only a third of those who own cars insure their vehicles while the gap between what is provided for, and what is needed, in terms of death and disability cover, was estimated at R23 trillion in 2013. In addition, most employees and self-employed individuals are unclear on their health costs and whether they are paying too much or too little.

Clearly, the financial services sector of which we are a part, is failing to render a sufficiently impactful service to the majority of those individuals who are fortunate enough to be employed and have the means to control or at least contribute meaningfully towards their financial well-being.

We at Alexander Forbes have put financial well-being at the centre of what we do, instead of treating it as a desirable outcome.

services with real impact

One of the four pillars of our 2016 – 2020 ambition is ‘to serve our clients with positive impact and secure their financial well-being’. Our strategic intent is informed by key Material Issues, one of which is ‘Providing impactful service to our clients’. This is about more than retaining our clients’ business or executing transactions without errors; it is about giving them and their loved ones peace of mind and financial security.

This year we noted an increase in interaction with individual clients through our call centres (in the case of AFFS 10% up on 2013/14) and self-service, online capabilities which had been expanded in 2013/14. While the majority of these interactions were of a routine administrative nature, we began investing this year in empowering our clients to better inform their own financial well-being.

A major IT project begun in the second half of the year aimed to give our customers more easily accessible, user-friendly tools and information to make better financial planning decisions. The first practical deployment of this commitment was the successful launch of a web-based tax-free savings product in March 2015. The three-month project leading to the launch of this product was the result of a collaborative effort between various lines of business, group IT, brand and marketing, legal as well as risk and compliance areas.

Also in the second half of the year, we devoted considerable resources, across divisions, to the planned introduction of the Financial Well-being programme. Preparations for the introduction of this watershed development in our interaction with clients included:

  • creating and launching a website to support client interactions, queries and personal planning;
  • intensively training and accrediting the first 20 financial well-being consultants; and
  • piloting employee wellness engagement days.

Financial Well-being will represent a change in our treatment of customers and of how we provide them with holistic, impactful services that are pertinent and appropriate to their particular circumstances.

Financial Well-being will expose individuals to our multi-skilled wellness consultants as well as specialists. Interactions at employers’ premises will entail high-level needs analyses and plotting where individual investors are on our ‘create, grow, protect’ continuum. Financial Well-being journey ‘portfolios’ will address the specific status, needs and aspirations of particular clients – instead of treating them as averages.

In 2015/16 we project that Financial Well-being in the workplace will be rolled out to 50 Institutional clients. Investments in staffing, training, marketing and logistics in what is considered a strategic undertaking will be made as the strategy is implemented. Benefits of financial well-being in the workplace that support our strategic intent are expected to include:

  • enabling individual customers to better understand their financial options and better plan for their own financial well-being;
  • improving the client value proposition for those charged with fund governance; and
  • supporting our strategic intent of leveraging our core to grow by exposing tens of thousands of individuals to the full range of Alexander Forbes’ retail consulting, risk and investment solutions.

The primary risk attached to the substantial investment we are making in this initiative is that we fail to meaningfully engage individual customers in improving their financial well-being, and consequently fail to achieve key elements of our strategic intent.

Delivering on our promises

In our 2013/14 integrated annual report we promised to:

How we delivered on our promises:

  • Integrate Treating Customers Fairly (TCF) into regular management reporting
  • TCF features in management reporting at business unit, divisional and group level
  • Map and analyse TCF risks
  • TCF integrated into all divisional risk registers
  • At AFFS, over 2 000 employees passed TCF awareness assessments; all AFI and Investment Solutions employees underwent compulsory TCF awareness assessments


TCF – the journey continues

Treating Customers Fairly (TCF) is the Financial Services Board’s framework to regulate market conduct. Guided by six specific desired outcomes, the framework centres on embedding fairness in all aspects of customers’ experiences with their service providers.

In June 2015, Alexander Forbes’ Social, Ethics and Transformation Committee received detailed reports from the heads of SA Financial Services (AFFS), Investment Solutions and Alexander Forbes Insurance on just how embedded TCF was in their businesses.

Just one of these reports, that from AFFS (which was not prepared with external consumption in mind), included comments from MDs and business heads on their experiences of TCF to date. These comments included:

  • ‘TCF is driving the culture of client centricity. Our approach to our procedure[s] and processes has changed as we now always consider our customers’ need and expectations;’ and
  • ‘TCF benefits our division by highlighting various aspects of our business that may previously have gone unnoticed.’

In his report, AFFS CEO Peter Edwards noted that overall delivery and progress on TCF had progressed since September 2014 from amber to green. Whether a business unit is amber, green or red is determined by interrogating a large number of measures that are deemed appropriate to that business unit. The robustness and application of these measures themselves continue to be tested, as is the extent to which TCF is embedded, as Edwards put it in his report, in the ‘hearts and minds’ of employees.

Noting that a great deal of work still needed to be done, Edwards reported that AFFS had committed to closing 591 identified TCF gaps in 2015/16 and to keeping closed 491 gaps that had been closed in 2014/15.

Fifty documents and marketing material had been reviewed externally for plain language; 2 000 employees had passed TCF awareness assessments and another 2 000 had completed the first part of a complaints awareness assessment. In addition, a first annual TCF survey had been completed, a TCF policy drafted and TCF outcomes aligned to the AFFS risk register.

And still there was a great deal of work to be done …