Simoney Kyriakou – I Will Find You

Hi everyone, this week I am chatting to Simoney Kyriakou from Financial Adviser.

Simoney is on a mission to clear up rogue lead generation firms. From the start we are clear on this, not all lead generation firms are iffy, there are many out there that are completely reputable. As with anything in life you get some good and you get some bad.

I’m chatting to Simoney about the ways that some lead generation firms are behaving, that isn’t seen to be the best when it comes to client services. We are talking about ways that client’s data is sometimes shared, the way that advertising is being used to confuse customers and how this is affecting the insurance industry as a whole.

The 3 key takeaways:

  1. Some of the key tactics that are used by lead generation firms, to target their audience.
  2. How client’s data can be used and sold once it is with a lead generation firm.
  3. The responsibility of adviser firms to know the methods that are being used by lead generation firms, especially if they are unregulated.

Next week I will be chatting with Ross Linnett from Recite Me, a communications software that is helping to improve customer’s experiences across the internet, with their cloud based accessibility tool.

Kathryn:       Hi everyone, today I have Simoney Kyriacou with me from Financial Adviser.  Hi Simoney!

Simoney:     Hi there Kathryn.  How are you doing?

Kathryn:       I’m good thank you, how are you?

Simoney:     We’re all grand, we’re all grand.

Kathryn:       Brilliant.  Simoney is joining me to talk about lead gen firms that aren’t maybe operating in the most client-friendly ways, what’s happening in our industry to tackle these things happening and what to look out for and also we’re going to be chatting about their recent diversity and inclusion awards.  This is the Practical Protection podcast.  So let’s start off then Simoney.  How are you doing?  What’s the latest with you?

Simoney:     Well the latest with me, we took on two cats during lockdown, that was good.  So I’m sort of working from home, as most people are, on Financial Adviser, five days a week and looking after my child two days a week in addition and looking after the cats five days a week in addition to that.  So if anything creeps into Financial Adviser that shouldn’t be there, there’s probably reasons for it.

Kathryn:       Also – you’ve also got the husband as well that is obviously there as well to be took care of.

Simoney:     I’ve got the husband but thankfully he can mostly look after himself now and he’s quite potty trained by now so that’s a help, that’s a help.

Kathryn:       Absolutely, absolutely.  So each week we do have a truth or lie feature on the podcast and last time my Dad said that his favourite James Bond film is Goldfinger and I said that mine was Quantum of Solace and the trick is to figure out who do you think is telling the truth?

Simoney:     I think your Dad may be telling the truth.  I think you may be telling a lie because I don’t know any woman who thinks Quantum of Solace is good, even though it’s got Daniel Craig in.  I think every woman really likes the Casino Royale with Daniel Craig.  Did I say Craig David?  I meant Daniel Craig.

Kathryn:       I don’t know.  I think you said – I’m not sure.

Simoney:     One of the two, the one that doesn’t sing.  Maybe he does sing!  I saw him once in the street, we gave each other an eyeball until I realised who it was.  Daniel Craig it was, not Craig David.

Kathryn:       I was going to say – I’m getting so confused.  Right, so you are right in the fact that my Dad was telling the truth. Absolutely, Goldfinger is his ultimate film and I was saying a lie.  My actual favourite is Live And Let Die.

Simoney:     Nice, I love that one.

Kathryn:       Yeah, I was brought up with the James Bond films so I have to say my childhood crush was Roger Moore and yeah, Live And Let Die, absolutely.  So –

Simoney:     It’s that scene isn’t it in Harlem, when they’re walking through the streets in Harlem?

Kathryn:       Yeah, for me – well the main thing on that one, it’s the end on the train and he’s, you know, they’re going away on the train and he’s still there and that just completely really freaked me out as a kid but then obviously I was like, “Oh that’s amazing.”  Yes, we’ll move on.  So I think a lot of our listeners are going to have heard about you speaking with really quite clear passion about your work in tackling the not-so-good side of lead gen firms and something I want to say as well very early on is that we’re not saying that all lead gen firms but just that we’re getting some – as in any kind of organisation, you know, there are good ones and bad ones and we’re getting some that are really starting to stand out now so can you give everyone a little bit of a back story about this side of things please?

Simoney:     Yeah sure.  In about 2010/2011, we were writing a lot about lead gen firms because they were sort of – they seemed to be springing up all over the place and not all of them seemed to be operating in a very fair, transparent and not misleading fashion.  So when RDR came in in 2013, they seemed to go underground.  A lot of the lead gen firms seemed to go very, very quiet and, you know, they sort of – they didn’t kind of crop up that much on our radar.

Every now and then they did but when Covid sent the UK into lockdown, we started to see a lot more adverts cropping up on people’s timelines.  I think you’ve mentioned this as well on your Facebook and Twitter feeds and sort of insurance marketing company Rocketer started to do some collation, like look at the data analysis on some of these and where they’re coming from and found that, because sort of advertising rates were so low during the first sort of few weeks of lockdown, people had just been pulling ads left, right and centre so people like Facebook and other sort of social media sites were offering some good deals to anyone who would take them up on it and unfortunately that sort of gave almost free reign for kind of some spurious lead generation firms to come into the – come into the ether as it were.  And as you say, it’s not all lead gen firms but there have been some quite – how shall we say, scaremongering tactics employed and I think that’s a real worry.  People are already scared and people were very, very scared in March and April because we just did not know what was going to happen and every day you turn on the news and it seemed to be something worse and you suddenly see these lead gen ads popping up.  It sort of targets you when you’re very vulnerable and that’s a danger in itself.

Kathryn:       Yeah absolutely.  As you say, I definitely got them and I started making a little bit of noise about it because it just – it really got to me and like you say, you know, it was March/April time and all of a sudden – obviously I won’t name names but all of a sudden I was getting targeted ads on social media, especially Facebook, and obviously I live in the same area as my husband, as you can imagine, and he wasn’t getting them on his Facebook account.  So the first thing there was okay, so what they’re doing is – at the moment they’re targeting women, probably with children in this area and it just felt so, so wrong that they would be doing that and it was that kind of thing of, well – I mean, I know at the end of the day some people will probably listen and just think, “Well it’s business, you know, you need to get over it.  It’s what businesses do, you know, they need to make money and they’re going to do these tactics,” but it’s also – it’s just not right.

I mean, I just couldn’t do that and I know people have said to us before, “Do you do Facebook advertising?  Do you do this, do you do that?”  And it was the case of well, “We do put out there what we do,” but for us, obviously we’re very different to a lot of companies, but for us it’s really awkward because I said to them, “Well what do I do then?  Do I put out an ad on Facebook saying, you know, ‘Do you have multiple sclerosis?  I can step in and help you.’”  It just never felt right to do it that way but anyway, so obviously we’re not a lead gen firm so we’ll move back on to the main topic.  So obviously there’s been a lot of work being done and I remember seeing you on a talk, I can’t remember the name of the exact one but a talk recently and you just very, very clearly like looked at the camera and said, “I will find you and there is no hiding from me.”  And it was amazing and it really did sort of like feel like, “Okay I’m not going to get on the wrong side of Simoney.”  But what kind of things can we do to improve the standards within this area?  I mean, what kind of tactics are generally being used by these lead generators that are catching people out?

Simoney:     Yeah, I think I’ll start with that first, you know, sort of look at the tactics they’re employing.  Some of the tactics – I mean I’ve already mentioned it’s scaremongering, two – you’ve mentioned that’s it’s almost targeting and tailoring so they’re using data and for all the furore that was created over Cambridge Analytica and even now with the recent Channel 4 investigation into how data has been used in the 2016 American elections, we know that our data is being used and abused to target us.  So, if women are being targeted, if people who have known disabilities or who talk about it on social media – they are being targeted, this is a very dangerous thing to do, particularly at a time when people have – people’s anxiety is increased.

I think I was talking to someone from – I think it was Mind, a few weeks ago saying that whereas before you’d say maybe one in every four people in the UK on average would have a mental ill health episode, they were starting to see one in every two people reporting heightened levels of anxiety and sort of feeling depression, not necessarily clinical depression but having episodes – depressive episodes.

So people’s mental ill health – mental health is very fragile at the moment and if you are preying on people by using tactics such as, “Oh, you know, in this sort of pandemic, the worst could happen.  You could be without a job, you could get very, very ill and unable to work.  Who’s going to look after your children?”  Or in the worst case, you know, with life insurance, you’re sort of saying, you know, “Women your age in your area can get life insurance for £10 a month,” and you think, “Well that sounds really good.”  And of course we know that’s not true.  I mean, all you have to do is go on to an actual insurer’s website and use their sort of online calculators to know that actually what’s tailored for you could be very, very different.  Your life insurance – if it’s only £10 a month, it’s probably not very good. You know, what are the terms and conditions?  You know, is it tailored to you?  Is it appropriate?

So at best, at the very best, people could use those scaremongering adverts to get some form of protection in place that they never had before.  At worst, they’re getting something that’s completely inappropriate, totally ends up being far more expensive when they actually sort of fill in all the questionnaires and go through and on top of that, their data isn’t just being shared with one company, it’s being shared with three or four different companies.  So you have no idea how your data is being used.  I could give this thinking, “Well this is just insurer A who has used this lead gen firm.”  Actually, I could have my data shared with 10 different financial advisers buying those leads and the data could be going out to three or four different insurance companies, all of whom start talking to me and it might make me so confused that a), I may never get the insurance I need ‘cos it will just put me off and b), it could put me off financial advice all together.  So you could end up in a completely worse financial situation and that’s why I think these lead gen ads are completely – I’m trying to think of a polite way of saying what I want to say.

Kathryn:       Irresponsible?

Simoney:     Irresponsible is a good word to use.  In some ways that might be being a bit kind to the worst offenders.  I think the worst offenders are actually cruel to prey on people who are emotionally vulnerable at this stage.  I think it is cruel and it could, yeah, it could put people off financial advice forever and that’s a terrible thing as well – to mean – it means that someone could end up in a worse financial state than they started out or put off from getting financial advice, leaving their own families unprotected should the worst happen.  Yeah.

Kathryn:       Yeah, I think as well there was something that I’ve seen quite a few bits about and I think it’s – it is one of those things that like are absolute no, no, no, no, no, so maybe it’s a good thing for companies to know just in case they’re doing it and don’t realise, but isn’t there something as well about people using like the image of National Insurance cards and passports in like – in their outreach and they’re like – they’re really not meant to do that are they?

Simoney:     Yeah, it’s – you always see that at sort of like the bottom – if you’re reading a newspaper article, it sort of has it at the bottom saying, “People in Merton have been trying this trick,” or, “People aged 60 to 70 have been looking at –” and it’s got the NI card there which almost makes it look like it’s official.

Kathryn:       Yeah, a bit government-linked or something.

Simoney:     As if it’s government-linked, yes.  “Oh it’s National Insurance, that must be safe.”  You know, it’s like the FCA like recently has been discouraging people from using their logo on its website because it’s not meant to be used in that way.  It sort of almost gives people like a quality assurance mark if they see an NI card or they see a close-up of an HMRC or a Tax Office thing, it makes it look official.  So yeah, there’s a real perception issue and it’s these sort of things that makes the general consumer distrust insurance or distrust the whole financial services market, just at a time where we’re trying to rebuild and restore trust, you know, we get – every few years we sort of get to a stage where people are, “Yes, I trust financial advisers with my money,” and then suddenly something like this happens and they just sort of go straight back into their shell.

Kathryn:       Yeah.

Simoney:     And think, “Well, I’ll just stick it under my bed then ‘cos I don’t trust anyone.  You’re all out to get me.”  This is what the average consumer will say.

Kathryn:       Yeah, oh absolutely.  I was going to say, my parents are exactly the same and I – obviously I work in financial services and, you know, I do all the steps to make sure that people I’m working with are, you know, reputable and that I’m comfortable and that, you know, potentially if I signpost people to people, I make sure that I’m comfortable with that person.  And with my Mum and Dad, I’ve tried so hard, so, so hard to get them to look at some financial advice and my Mum just does that thing where she just, “Hm mm, hm mm,” you know, and someone will be chatting to her, “Hm mm, hm mm,” and then it’s like afterwards and, you know, and you finish chatting to her and she’s just like, “Nope, I’m quite happy with what I’m doing, thank you.”  And you’re just like, “Agh,” you know, and it’s just ‘cos – I mean she doesn’t trust anyone.  She doesn’t even trust the banks, so, you know, she doesn’t trust anybody at all with money.  So, you know, there is those people that are – that’s from her hearing about people who had things go wrong with them and again people who are given wrong advice or maybe not had things properly explained to them like people she works with who maybe invested money into ISAs or something through the bank and it wasn’t clearly explained to them that it was like a stocks and shares ISA and all of a sudden all the money went so that made my Mum very nervous of doing that.

You know, it’s – there’s just so many little things I think that can add up in different areas across financial services that then gets lumped upon anybody who’s working in finance.  Sort of like a bad experience in one place is kind of seen as a bad experience everywhere.

Simoney:     Yeah.

Kathryn:       What do you think it is that lead gen firms are kind of trying to achieve in a sense?  I mean, clearly they’re trying to get leads but do you think that there’s anything extra that they’re trying to do?

Simoney:     Let’s say that we are reputable lead gen firms.  Let’s say that we think that we have the technology and the nouse to be able to put people in touch with insurers and with advisers that can give them advice.  We may believe, and I’m being really generous here – we may believe that we can improve people’s access to the financial products they need, that we can act as the middle man, the introducer.  We can put Mrs Miggins of Hinchley Lane in touch with the right financial adviser and with the right investment product and the right insurance product and that will do her very nicely because Mrs Miggins wouldn’t have been able to get this otherwise, she wouldn’t have known where to go.  So we could think of ourselves as sign-posters, introducers, middle – the middle makers, the match-men, the Cilla Black of the financial services world, you know.

Going back to lead gen, so lead gen I think really need to sort of – if they’re doing that, if they’re performing that role, I think they need to do it very responsibly and with a very straightforward manner and say, “This is what we’re going to do, this is where we’re going to pass your data.  Thank you Mrs Miggins, so we have four insurers that are on our books.  We’re going to pass your details with your permission to all these four insurers.  Could you please sign a form saying you’re happy for us to do that?  We can also signpost you to three advisers in your area, one, two, three.  Are you happy for us to do that as well and they may contact you?”  That I think is being open about it but generally I think obviously they’re out to make money because let’s face it, no one does things purely out of altruism.  You know, they’re not charities, they’re not social workers, they’re out to make a buck for themselves.  So the fact that Mrs Miggins doesn’t know that her data is going to three or four different insurers, she doesn’t know that when she gets a call from one financial adviser that she’s not going to get a call from another financial adviser from a different firm.  Quite often, these – you’ll get a phone call from someone saying, “Oh, we’re calling from your insurer.”  You’re like, “Which one?”  They’re like, “Oh well, you know, we work with Scottish Widows, we work with Aegon.”  You’re like, “Really, well which one of those is my insurer?  What’s my policy number?”  You know?

Kathryn:       Absolutely.

Simoney:     But people don’t always have the nouse to say that and in the middle of a pandemic when you’ve got a million other things on your mind, you hear the words ‘life insurer’ on the phone, you may well think the worst has happened.  I think all lead generation firms – if they are doing a service, they need to be really, really open about everything and then I think people would go into it with their eyes open and say, “Okay, fair enough, I appreciate I could get up to four or five calls from different people,” but if it saves them having to shop around and all they have to be is reactive and answer the phone, then that might suit some people.  But I can’t always blame financial advisers for using lead gen firms.  Quite often, if you are a sole trader particularly, you may need to use lead gen because you are so busy, you are inundated – even in lockdown when you’re doing Zoom calls rather than driving half way up the M1, you still might be really, really ultra-busy.  You’ve got loads of forms to fill in, you’ve got loads of admin and paperwork and regulatory matters to deal with so I can understand why they might say, “Well, for a portion of my business, I’d quite like to buy some leads.”

Kathryn:       Yeah.

Simoney:     And you may not investigate that.  You may not want to interrogate where those leads are coming from or how they’re generated but I think – I hope with the noise that we’re making in the industry and I know AIG has been very strong in looking into this and –

Kathryn:       Yes.

Simoney:     Rocketer and quite a few firms have come up and said, “Look, here’s some data on it, we really need to start tackling this.”  I think the noise might make financial advisers wake up a little bit more and say, “This is – right, I’d better just check where my leads are coming from and how they’re being generated,” and it will give them the opportunity to move to someone who’s a bit more reputable or to find other ways of getting those leads in.

Kathryn:       Absolutely.  I was going to say I think, you know, adviser due diligence about knowing where these leads are coming from is absolutely essential, you know, because as you say, it’s – some people need to buy leads in, especially possibly if you’re a start-up as well, you know, it may be that you don’t have lots of people coming to your website or to you through different means in the local area and to start building up your portfolio you may buy some leads in and there’s nothing wrong with doing that because ultimately you are buying a service but it’s just making sure that the people that you are using are obviously, as you say, reputable.

So I think it’s fair to say as well that – like we just mentioned before, improving the image of financial services is something that all of us are constantly trying to do and it’s probably why this, you know, sort of like what’s been happening with the lead gen firms over the last few months especially, is like really starting to stand out.  What’s happening in the industry?  Just for people to know, so what is happening in the industry in a sense to tackle all of this Simoney?  So I know you’ve mentioned obviously there’s been some studies, some data analysis.  Is there anything sort of kind of intense coming up or anything or, you know, sort of a little bit that’s going to be more sort of like – there’s going to be rules maybe in place to say, “Right well this is a no and this is yes,” or something?

Simoney:     There have been calls for some rules and some regulations.  I think you probably saw the Protection Review report on this and, you know, calling for sort of better verification and some underlying standards to be put in place so that there can be better checking, advisers can feel more confident that the leads they’re getting are from reputable and verifiable sources and knowing that, from the consumers’ point of view, knowing that their data is being protected as a result of these more stringent checks.  That’s a very important thing to do.  I don’t know quite how far along we are with that but I really would hope that that’s already been put in place.  A lot of firms have sort of signed up to that or – not necessarily signed up to it but they’ve sort of come out in support of it and said, “Yes, we’d be very pleased to see something like that happen.”

I think one problem we have is that, although the FCA is really strong on consumer protection, the FCA does not regulate protection.  It does regulate some areas of the insurance market but it doesn’t regulate protection.  I think it’s only a matter of time before they do.

Kathryn:       Yeah.

Simoney:     And with the RDR, they said, “Well we won’t regulate protection because we understand protection is sold and not bought, therefore you need to have commission structures in place as an incentive for people to buy insurance.”  So they said they wouldn’t regulate it as part of RDR but I know currently the Treasury is looking at the whole of the retail financial services market and how it’s regulated and there are calls from the PFS, the CII, from the Association of Mortgage Intermediaries, from all of these bodies to have a more holistic financial advice market review and to bring in mortgages within that scope, to bring in insurance within that scope.  If we have FAMR II, it will bring insurance in and I know that in my working life, I will see the FCA start to regulate protection.  You can see it coming.  In its sector review earlier this year, I love the reviews that it puts out every sort of January, February because it looks holistically at everything where protection has fallen down and it had pages and pages on healthcare, critical illness cover products, how complicated the wording is, how complicated income protection can be, why is it undersold, why is it underbought, what are the barriers to entry on IP?  The FCA doesn’t regulate that so why is it looking at it in a sector report?  It’s looking at it because it needs to understand it and it needs to understand it because it’s seen that there can be consumer detriment in those areas.  It will not be long before the FCA starts to regulate them.

Kathryn:       So it’s something that people really need to –

Simoney:     If you get on board now, if you make sure you tidy up your leads, you tidy up – you get your verification, you get the protection, you sign up to – or you adhere to the guidelines that have been laid down by people like Protection Review to make sure that you know where all your leads are coming from – everything’s traceable, everything’s trackable – track and trace, track and trace!

Kathryn:       But not the Government system, let’s just –

Simoney:     No because as we know, that data has been used for spurious advertising purposes, you know, it’s been sold on.  I knew this would happen, you know, I knew.  It should surprise nobody and this is one thing that the conspiracy theorists really get me – they use their mobile phones to complain about track and trace and say how they would never do track and trace because the Government’s got all your data and they’re posting it on their Android or on their Huawei or their Iphone.  I’m thinking, “You’ve got a locator chip in your phone and everyone knows where you’ve been.”  I mean, nothing – unless you’re completely off-grid, nothing is sacred any more but we don’t live in an off-grid world, we live in a connected world.

Kathryn:       That’s true.

Simoney:     But in terms of financial services, that can actually be a good thing if everything is used in the right way and, you know, using that data – the sort of big data that you can get can be sort of applied in an intelligent way to market more effectively to the right people and to market the right product and the right service to the right target audience in a fair and honest and not misleading way and that’s what I would like to see and I’m sure that’s where the FCA is going to go.

Kathryn:       Absolutely.  I mean, what kind of risks do financial advisers face if they’re not checking how legitimate the leads are?  I mean, especially if the firm that they’re using is non-regulated.  From my understanding, if you are buying leads in, if you’re buying it from a regulated firm, there are some kind of level of protection as a financial adviser but if you are buying them and sourcing them from non-regulated firms then that means in a sense if anything isn’t necessarily above board, then that’s going to fall upon the adviser themselves who’s buying them.  Is that right?

Simoney:     Well yes, I mean you mentioned the words due diligence and that’s the absolutely critical thing here.  Like if a financial adviser has done his or her due diligence on anything that he or she has bought from a regulated, well known insurance firm and the insurer has done something wrong that the IFA could not have known about and that the consumer could not have known about, then the burden of fault lies with the insurer and it can be provably so and the compensation schemes will kick in and that will be quite – well it should be quite straightforward however the client is still the adviser’s.  Whether the client ends up with an unregulated or a regulated product or has gone through a regulated or unregulated introducer, the client belongs to the adviser so therefore the advice is regulated.  So the adviser is still liable for wrong advice or mis-advice.  It doesn’t mean to say that the adviser has been dodgy, quite often they have done everything in good faith but there is a case of not doing your due diligence.

If you have gone to unregulated lead introducers and you haven’t checked, you haven’t done your due diligence then the burden is on you.  The client is yours and the regulators will not see it like that and if it has to go to – it may even go to court, you know, you could end up in a small claims court so you can’t rely on sort of washing your hands and saying, “Well, I knew that my client needed a good life insurance product but I didn’t know that the lead gen person was dodgy and not doing their duty properly.”  I think there’s enough – we should know enough now to not be able to claim ignorance.  What is it, ignorance is no defence in law?  Really and I think, you know, anyone trying to rely on the ignorance defence is probably trying to – probably not going to be very successful in using that as a defence.

Kathryn:       Absolutely.  My parents were police officers and yeah, that was always something that they would say, is that ignorance is no defence whatsoever.  What do you recommend to people that are listening, you know, if somebody is offering them leads to buy, I mean, I have to say, I am absolutely fed up with the amount of messages I get on LinkedIn saying, “I really think it would be nice for us to sort of like get to know each other, you know, we’re in the same network.”  And I think, “Oh fantastic, yeah let’s say hi,” and the next few days or so you just get messages upon messages of like, “I’ve got amazing leads,” and you’re just like, “Okay.”  You know, I mean, we don’t buy leads so it’s just something that doesn’t – isn’t set up for ourselves but what should – for firms and advisers who are buying leads, is there anything that they should be looking out for that’s a sign of, “Yeah, that possibly is coming from an okay source,” and then anything that makes maybe – should be a red flag to go, “Ooh, I’m not too sure if that’s necessarily been done completely right.”

Simoney:     Yeah, I think first of all look at the priorities of your firm.  If you’re concentrating on lead generation rather than protecting your existing clients and making sure that their reviews are all done and that they’re up to date and that their policies are renewed, if you’re concentrating on those clients and everything is hunky dory, then fine, you can start looking for new leads but if you’re not paying attention to policy lapses and if you’re not looking after your existing clients then what’s the point of getting new leads?  You’re sort of – you’re just sort of almost plugging a – or sort of putting a sticking plaster over a very, very leaky hole, you know.  Concentrate on client retention before lead generation.

Kathryn:       Yeah.

Simoney:     I think you also need to be careful about clawback rates as well if you aren’t paying attention to where your leads are coming from.  There is a great likelihood that these policies will be cancelled or that the client will just ditch them after a year or so and you could be liable for huge clawback rates so again there’s a financial – there should be a financial disincentive for just using any old lead generator.  I mean, where you can, try and find out how many other financial advisers in your area have used them.

Kathryn:       Yeah.

Simoney:     Speak to your insurers that you have signed agreements with them.  Ask them, do they ever do any business with this XY&Z lead generator.  Do a very quick internet search.  See if there’s been anyone complaining about them.

Kathryn:       Yeah.

Simoney:     You know, have a look on warnings and speak to Protection Review.  Maybe they know if anyone’s sort of been flagged to them as a potentially disreputable person.  Look on places like Trustpilot or VouchedFor to see if there’s any information on there.  Use your network to find out what you can about them.  Just like you would when – you just wouldn’t pick up the very first card that comes through your door saying, “Dodgy Geezer Roof Company,” you just wouldn’t say, “Oh I’m going to ring up Dodgy Geezer Roof Company, he’s got a nice shiny ad he’s just stuck through my door.”  No, you’d look on Trustpilot, you’d look up Checkatrade, you’d see what work they’d done in the area, you’d check local Facebook groups to see what this person’s like and then if everyone’s saying amazing things about him or her, it gives you a sort of sense of confidence that actually they’ll do a decent job on your roof.  You just wouldn’t –

Kathryn:       No.

Simoney:     If you wouldn’t trust someone with your house, why would you trust your clients’ financial futures with someone?  So I think you need to be very careful about that.  I’m not saying don’t use lead gen, I’m just saying you’ve got to be very careful about where you get them from and the information is all out there.

Kathryn:       Yes.

Simoney:     It’s out there, it’s not all hidden.  You don’t have to sort of do funny handshakes in order to find out, you know, the truth about a company.  It’s all there on the internet for everyone to see.

Kathryn:       Well fantastic, thank you Simoney for giving obviously that background and all that information to us.  We’re going to sort of like have a little bit of a chat on some other things quite quickly before we finish up.  But you recently had your diversity and inclusion awards which was brilliant and I was really happy obviously that we were able to – to sort of – that we stood out in a couple of the categories.  How was it doing the diversity – I mean, it’s a huge thing at the moment isn’t it, diversity and inclusion?  It seems to be everywhere.  I mean, how was it for doing that?  I mean, what were the entries like?

Simoney:     It was really quite exciting because when we sort of came up with this idea in 2017/2018, I hadn’t gotten pregnant so I was really sort of excited to do the first one in 2019 and then I – obviously I got knocked up so – I say got knocked up, I mean it was very carefully planned through the IVF process so – so basically I missed the very first inaugural diversity awards so I was really looking forward to this year’s entries and when I saw the range and quality and depth of the entries submitted across all the categories, I was actually quite blown away because you sort of expect actually a little bit of tick box mentality with this like, “Oh yeah, diversity – we’ve hired a woman to the board,” or, “Oh yeah, we changed the sort of language in our adverts to show that we’re more flexible.”  I mean, those are the easy win-win situations but these companies had gone over – and yourself obviously included, that’s why Cura won those two awards, you know, it’s just that extra work put in to make the workforce not just diverse but to feel included, for everyone to feel that they’re part of something big, they’re part of something better, that there’s career progression, that the workplaces are a safe and encouraging environment for them to thrive in and then on top of that, you know, to use that as a springboard to reaching out into communities and to the local area.  Obviously smaller companies tend to have a smaller, more local reach but the impact that some small companies can have on their immediate locality is absolutely amazing.

And then seeing how some of the larger firms have been able to replicate that in different locations around the UK and sort of reaching out to different charities and partnering with sort of autism societies or to partner with neurodiverse agencies to help think about ways to improve the workplace and improve the client experience.  I just thought those things were really fascinating; things that perhaps I’d never even thought of before because we can all sort of sit back on our laurels and say, “Yeah, we’re diverse, you know, we’d never actively discriminate.”  But sometimes you have to challenge yourself and think, “Well am I passively discriminating?  Am I being lazy in the way I’m hiring?  Am I being lazy in the way I’m going about my recruitment?  Am I just saying that?”

Do you know, so many times in my life, you know, I was turned down for promotion opportunities and actually one guy – I don’t know if he even knew that I was engaged to George at the time – he actually – ‘cos George and I have worked in the same place – he actually said to George, “Ah, I’m so sick of trying to hire female editors because they just go off and have babies all the time.”  And he said that to George who was engaged to me at the time and I had gone for a job.  That guy is no longer there and the company is no longer there and I am editor and to be honest actually, I have never felt so supported in my workplace that I do now.  I mean, it’s absolutely amazing.  We’ve got a really great managing editor, managing – my editor-in-chief I should say who’s my direct boss.  An amazing like overall sort of director – he’s based in the US but he’s so hands on and he’s really – he’s a really good guy.  He listens, he reacts.  I think, you know, I mean, the FT has always been a really great place to work but personally I feel really supported as a female in the workplace, as a female mother in the workplace.

Kathryn:       Yeah.

Simoney:     But, you know, I’ve worked in other places where they said, “Oh you can’t work from home.  It’s impossible to work from home, you know, you’ll just be there sort of watching TV or Good Morning TV all day.”  Like, really?  And now Covid has made everyone work from home and suddenly all these little lies that traditional employers have used saying, “Oh no, the role requires someone to be in the office,” basically the role requires a man who doesn’t have to be at home looking after the kids.  That’s basically sort of –

Kathryn:       The traditional.

Simoney:     That’s how it’s been, you know.  You can have a career or you can have kids, you can’t have both.  So I think Covid has kind of knocked that lie right out of the window and I don’t think it will ever be able to be accepted back in the workplace.  So when I sort of see the way that these companies had not just taken those sort of old tropes and thrown them away but put in new systems, new standards, employed new agencies, worked with charities and third parties, even brought in sort of specialist external consultants to scrutinise and examine their own policies.  “Have we done things the right way?  And if we haven’t, find where we’ve done wrong, tell us how we can do things better.”  That takes a lot of humility and to see huge companies who you might think, “Oh these companies are big nameless, faceless organisations,” actually really sort of checking their own privilege and just making sure that they were doing the right thing and getting other people to verify it.  I thought that was amazing.  I was really, really impressed, really impressed with that and it’s given me a great deal of encouragement for the way things will go in the future, that we’re not going to just pay lip service to things like diversity and inclusion, we’re actually going to make a workforce and a workplace work for everyone.  Not just now but in the future.  That was amazing, it was really encouraging.

Kathryn:       I think it’s one of those things as well, you know, obviously we’ve been chatting about it at different times and I think a big thing as well is the fact that it’s, you know, when people say diversity and inclusion, I think a lot of people immediately think gender and race and then don’t seem to think about all the extra stuff as well and some perfect things that you were just saying there as well, so obviously there’s gender, there’s race, there’s religion, there’s sexuality, there’s age and there’s health and obviously like one of the things that you were saying there and I was on a podcast – I did a – one of my first ones I did with Mike Adams from the organisation Purple, and like he said, you know, he’d been into so many organisations for so many years where they’ve said, “We can’t possibly, you know, basically you’re saying to us that we should hire more people with disabilities who maybe can’t get into the workplace.  We can’t possibly adapt to them working from home all the time, it’s just not what we do.”  And he said, you know, it’s probably not too far into lockdown, but he just said, “Within two days, this country changed into a work at home,” and I mean, that’s a real kick in the teeth for everybody who’s been told, you know, mothers or people with disabilities or any other situation.  I’m sure I’m probably missing lots of situations when I’m saying that but, you know, for them to say sort of like, “No, you can’t work from home,” and it’s like, “No, well actually I can.”

It could be as well, even people if they maybe have to travel significant distances and commutes.  They’re maybe staying away from the family home for most of the week in a city and then going back at the weekend, you know, they’re missing out on so much time with their family.  I think as well, a lot of the time, you know, because people sometimes ask me about different things that we do to adapt for our team and different things and it’s often – it’s not necessarily huge things.  A lot of the time it is just speaking to somebody and saying, “Right, what can we do to help you to make this more of a, you know, sort of a company that you’d want to stay with forever?” in a sense.  And it can just be the simplest things that you change.

I know one of the examples I like to use – and it’s maybe, you know, obviously it wouldn’t necessarily suit everybody but, you know, we’ve got a couple in our team, a couple of guys who, you know, they do seasonal sports.  You know, one of them really likes to play hockey, one of them likes to do football and, you know, they’ll say to us and they’ll always ask each year, you know, “Is there any chance that I can maybe change my hours on this day and that day each week just so I can be part of the local team?”  And it was just like, “Yeah, you know, it’s – absolutely.  If you just need to move your hours around a little bit, that’s fine.”  You know, it’s not huge amounts, it’s maybe an hour earlier finish one day and they’ll work that extra hour somewhere else in the week and you find that people really like that and as well they’re going to find that the next, you know, if they are thinking of maybe, “Oh well, you know, I was thinking should I move, you know, try something new or something?” they’re not going to find that.  Well in the – there’s not many places that would do that and they know then that you care about how they are and also their health in that situation, you know, being fit which is really good.  But yeah, it’s those little things, it doesn’t have to be like technology that’s thousands upon thousands of pounds.  It doesn’t have to be an inconvenience, it can just be a really simple talk and then just a simple change.

Simoney:     Yeah, absolutely.

Kathryn:       And I know another thing we were going to chat about as well, I know you mentioned it obviously – we do speak a lot about insurance obviously on this podcast and it is an insurance we are going to chat about that’s not necessarily my specific area but I know you said with the IVF that you had some private medical insurance and different things so how did that work for you and what was that experience like?

Simoney:     Yeah so with our office – as I said, the FT is a great place to work ‘cos they do – they give you really good benefits and they do try and find ways of making – if they value you, which they do value their staff, they will find ways of making things work well for you.  So they have PMI and it’s a good benefit obviously – it’s a benefit that’s taxable so, you know, it does come with a slight cost in terms of your tax code but obviously it doesn’t cover things like if you’re going to have implantation or if you’re going to have hospital stays because of IVF.  It doesn’t cover IVF.  Not our one, I think there are some policies that may well do and it would be great if more health policies covered IVF because there are a host of associated things that happen as a result of the IVF treatments that you would need to have cover for.

But the support services have been great because I felt that I could sometimes just call up the nurses and say to them, “Look, I’m really struggling at work.”  When I did get pregnant, I was like, “I’m really struggling at work.  My back is really killing me, you know, I need to speak to the occupational health but I don’t really know what to ask for, you know, I don’t want to just be given a few exercises.  What sort of things can I expect what might happen?  What can I do put in place things that will last me through the course of my pregnancy when I’m in the office?”  And they were really, really helpful, you know, they gave me really good advice.  These are trained nurses, trained nursing professionals that are on the other end of the line.  And I would encourage anyone to look at what workplace benefits you’ve got.  If you’ve got a good insurance, whether it’s group income protection or PMI and it comes with the ability to pick up a phone and call a nurse, that’s amazing.

But I mean there were quite a lot of issues – I had quite a lot of issues with my IVF and there are certain elements that could not be – that even my – and I went to a really sort of quite expensive clinic up in London ‘cos we couldn’t do it on the NHS.  We had to go privately – even they didn’t have a lot of the equipment that was needed to sort of look at other things that might be wrong.  So for things that are specialist equipment – even though I was undergoing IVF, my PMI covered consultations with Harley Street doctors for X, Y and Z so for specific conditions.  So rather than have to shell out another lot of £100 for a consultation or £1,200 in this case, you know, the insurance was able to pick it up.  Not because it was for IVF but because it was for looking at endometriosis or looking for – to see whether I had fallopian blockages or whatnot.  So those things I found really, really helpful ‘cos I mean we must have spent like over £42,000 on IVF –

Kathryn:       Wow.

Simoney:     To get Charles so yeah it was, you know, we’re not – not all at once, we’re only journalists my goodness but, you know, and do you know what, I love it when my family and other people tell us how to spend our money.  “Oh, you could buy this, you could buy some new furniture.  You could buy a car.”  And I’m thinking, “Thanks for spending my money, we’ve got other things that are slightly more important to spend money on.”

Kathryn:       Yeah.

Simoney:     And I’m going to say, the PMI was also really, really helpful because under the cover that we have, I don’t want to name the provider –

Kathryn:       Of course.

Simoney:     But it’s whoever provides the PMI for the FT workplace so you can find that out, of course the real beggaring thing was, when I finally got pregnant after years and years and years of trying, I was really ill and I knew I had shingles.  I went to the A&E and the doctor who was half my age said, “You haven’t got shingles.”  Anyway, the next day it came up so badly.  I knew I had shingles so I went to the GP and she said, “Oh, you’ve got shingles.  Where did you go?”  I said, “I went to St Helier.”  She said, “Right I’m transferring you to St George’s, you need to go there now and keep away from people.”  I said, “I’m pregnant by the way.”  She said, “Ah, great.”  So basically the steroids that I’d been taking to help reduce the endometriosis had caused my immune system to be suppressed to the extent that my latent – it’s the herpes zoster virus isn’t it that causes chicken pox?  The latent virus, it stays in your system.  It came out –

Kathryn:       Right.

Simoney:     As shingles.  I was hooked up to an IV drip in a separate ward in the infectious diseases unit at St George’s on the hottest week – two weeks pregnant after IVF, you know, and I knew I had twins, early stage twins but I was terrified thinking, “How is this going to affect the baby?”  I had the very best care, like the NHS doctors were amazing and it was just so – and my boss was amazing.  She really helped me at the time, this was when I was deputy editor of FA.  She was so supportive.  Yeah, I spent three nights and – four days and three nights there and when I came out – it was so horrible, ‘cos we were so worried about the babies and everything – my husband just said, “Well ring the nurses on PMI and just see if there’s anything else you need.”  I rang them and they said, “Oh did you stay in the hospital?”  “Yeah.  There’s a but coming.  It was for basically shingles.”  She said, “Oh, every time you spend the night in hospital under your plan, you get £100.”  I was like, “I’ll go back there!  Sign me up now!”

So yeah, that has been also a real benefit because just at that time when you’re planning a family, at the time we thought we were having twins, we had a whole lifetime of expenses anticipated ahead of us plus all the expenses we were still paying off for all the treatments, to sort of be given a little bit of financial help at that time – 300 quid is not to be sniffed out.  It doesn’t sound a lot in the grand scheme of things but when you are feeling so rotten anyway, you know, when you can’t do any freelance, when you know that you’re going to go on maternity and you won’t be earning any money for a significant portion of that, to be given £300 because you spent three nights in a hospital is a really – it’s a really good benefit and again these are things that people don’t necessarily know about.

Kathryn:       Yeah.

Simoney:     Unless you pick up the phone or unless you read your terms – how many people read all their benefit statements, all their stuff that they get from the employer?  Read them.  No idea what you or your clients could be entitled to.

Kathryn:       Absolutely.  I mean, that’s one of the things that we do obviously as advisers in the protection space is, you know, is when we’re speaking to people, we say immediately, “What’s your death in service?  What is your sick pay?  What do you have through work?”  And I have to say, I think people – overall I think people are getting better actually at knowing that kind of thing but there is quite a few times that I’ll say to people, “You must find this out because one, I can’t misadvise you obviously if you’ve already got something like this.  I don’t want to be doing any kind of double-up that we don’t need here.”  But, you know, it’s just saying to them, “Speak to your HR department, you know, find out, is it in your employment contract and then find out if it is in the contract, it’s just like, okay, do you have it but if it’s not in your contract then that could mean it could potentially be removed so we need to just, you know –”  There’s so many different things to look at and I think that’s – I think the – especially as you say, like those extra bits that come with these insurances, you know, that the main bits of the insurances are incredible but it’s sometimes those extra bits that are the things that really, really stand out and prove to be incredibly helpful.

Simoney:     Yeah, I mean obviously if you are on a – if you’re on something like a workplace private medical insurance plan and you leave and you still want to keep it, you might find the premiums are raised exponentially and also it depends on how many times you’ve had to call on it I suppose.  So obviously it’s not the cheapest insurance out there which is why if your employer offers it, it’s probably a really good thing.  It is not a substitute for life insurance.

Kathryn:       No, or critical illness cover.

Simoney:     Or critical illness cover.

Kathryn:       Or income protection.

Simoney:     Well this is it because we looked at putting our child on our PMI but actually there is quite a big cost involved with that whereas I think if you get like a basic CI policy, I think many insurers – most insurers will cover the child up to – what is it 25k isn’t it?  Something like that as a –

Kathryn:       It depends.  Some insurers, you pick the amount with some of them.  Some of them it’s 25k, some of them I think – I’m thinking 35k – I think.  I think it really depends upon – well it’s all as well that’s to a maximum percentage of the total sum assured.

Simoney:     Yeah.

Kathryn:       But what’s interesting as well obviously with some insurers, well one insurer in particular, you can actually bolt on children’s critical illness cover to purely a life insurance policy for the adult so you don’t necessarily have to have that –

Simoney:     Yes.

Kathryn:       You know, because let’s be honest, critical illness cover is far more expensive than life insurance so if someone can’t afford the critical illness insurance themselves, it’s still maybe the potential they can cover the child for a certain level as well.

Simoney:     Yeah, so I mean these are the sort of reasons why you need to speak to a really good financial adviser such as yourself –

Kathryn:       Thank you.

Simoney:     And find out where you maybe have gaps in the protection for you and your family and where you can have the flexibility to do bolt-ons if that’s affordable or whether you can speak to your insurance provider and get a slightly better package.

Kathryn:       Yeah.

Simoney:     And for not too much more of a premium thank you very much.  But I’d say that – always check your workplace first.

Kathryn:       Yeah.

Simoney:     Always check.  I mean, we don’t have life insurance at work but we get 14 times’ death in service benefits.

Kathryn:       Yeah.

Simoney:     And like I said, my husband and I work at the same place so I mean I’m always trying to get him to fix the satellite dish on the roof and he’s always encouraging me to like clean right at the back of the oven while he’s got the gas on just to make sure it works so –

Kathryn:       No, that sounds very similar to me and Alan.  Alan was horrendously ill in August, it ended up being, you know, really, really bad food poisoning but to the point where they were saying things that you would just like – until we knew what it was, they were saying anything and everything that was terrifying and he found out it was food poisoning and I just looked at him, we were talking on video and I’m sure as many people can appreciate based on our humour, and I just looked at him and I was like, “Could you have not picked something that was on your critical illness plan?”  You know, it was just like, “I don’t want you to have a critical illness but seriously!”

But sort of like coming towards the end of everything then, so one of the things – again just going back to a little bit of something that you said a little while ago about, you know, when you get these phone calls from people and they’re a little bit dodgy.  So a few tips that I’ve given out before to people and it may sometimes be good for advisers.  They may already be doing this but to potentially remind their clients about it.  So I got a call a couple of years ago with someone saying straight away, “Oh hi, is that Kathryn?”  I was like, “Yeah.”  They were like, “Oh I’m ringing up from your insurance company.”  I was like, “Oh wonderful.”  Obviously being who I am, I was like, “That’s absolutely amazing, thank you.  What is it?”  They were just like, “Oh well I just want to check in – it’s time for you to review your cover.”  And I was like, “Brilliant.”  And they were like, “Well, can you just confirm for me the insurer?”  I was like, “Sorry, do you not have – sorry, I thought you were the insurer?”  And they were like, “Um.  Oh well I’m ringing, you know, on behalf of the insurer.”  I was like, “Oh.  So which insurer then?”  And they were like, “Oh, well it’s either Aviva, Legal & General or Scottish Widows,” and obviously I was just playing along for quite a while with this person.  I felt a little sorry for them actually.

But yeah, so I have some tips for people and the tips that I did that I think can help.  So one of the main things to sort of say tip-wise is that that is what is going to be happening is that someone is going to ring up and they’re not going to say, “I am from – ” and then name your insurer.  They’re going to say, “I’m calling on behalf of your insurer,” because that’s a different sentence.  So, “I’m calling on behalf of your insurer,” and then they may say to you, “Oh can you just confirm, you know, these details?”  And it’s just like, “Well if you’re calling from my insurer, I wouldn’t need to confirm those details.  You would have those details in front of you.”

So one of the things that I think is always a good thing – and we did this, we sent out a disclaimer at the beginning of – no, it wasn’t a disclaimer, we sent out a contact to all of our clients at the beginning of lockdown because, touch wood, luckily we weren’t notified about it for any of our clients but we did have colleagues who were having it where their clients were being called and it was being said to them, “Do you realise your life insurance won’t pay out for Covid?  You need to arrange it through us.”  Which I just is absolutely astonishing that people could actually – well I say it’s astonishing that people could do that – again, it’s business but I just couldn’t do it myself.

But anyway, and so the main things are, you know, if someone is ringing you up, you know, say to them, you know, say, “Can you confirm my policy number for me?”  If it’s a legitimate – if it’s your broker, if it’s your adviser, if it’s the insurer, they have that in front of them.  Things like the sum assured on the policy, if you don’t obviously know what your policy number is, the premium that you’re paying, the company name, the insurer name and the name of the adviser that supported you as well.  So what happened on my phone call which really started to I think flag to this person is that I asked them for their FCA number.

Simoney:     Ha!

Kathryn:       I said, you know, I was like, “What’s your FCA number?” and they were like, “We don’t usually give that out.”  And I was like, “Oh really?  Because obviously I can search the – what’s the company name then?  Can I just confirm please because I need to check that you’re a legitimate company.”  And it wasn’t long after that he hung up on me.  But, you know, you can ask them for that.  If they’re a legitimate company, they’re not going to mind being asked for that number.  You know, don’t assume if they say, “Right okay, so I’ve got you – your name’s Kathryn, I can see that you live at X, Y, Z, you know, with this postcode and this is your telephone number.”  That’s not to say that it’s legitimate because unfortunately, even if you’re not in the telephone book and everything else, your name, your number and your address is in quite a lot of places and there are places that unfortunately will sell your data going on to different companies and I think there’s something where they can actually – there’s – I think Alan told me about it where there’s something where people can get copies kind of what someone’s direct debits are and then they can see from there like the different things that they have and they just go out and target.

And I say, the main thing for me that stands out and it’s something to make everyone aware of for your clients, is just that thing of, you know, like I’ve had it before where my credit card company has called me and they’ll have said, “Oh can you confirm this?”  And I’ll go, “No I won’t but I’ll ring you back and confirm that you’re genuine.”  And there’s been the odd time that someone’s gone, “Well that’s not how this works.”  And I’m just like, “Well fine then, we’re not going to talk are we?”  You know?  There’s nothing wrong with saying, “You know what, no this isn’t – I’m not comfortable, I’m stopping here and I’ll call you back.”  If they’re a genuine firm that’s calling you then it will be fine.

So we’re coming towards the end then Simoney and we have our truth or lie feature and this time we’re going to be telling our teenage crushes.  So I’ll go first, I’m going to say that my teenage crush was Johnny Depp.  I’m just wondering who yours is?

Simoney:     My teenage crush was Mark Owen.

Kathryn:       Very nice, very nice.  It’s those dance moves isn’t it?

Simoney:     It’s the dance moves, the hips don’t lie.  No, that’s Shakira.

Kathryn:       Yeah, but he moved his hips, it’s fine.  It’s fine, we’ll just go with that and we’ll move on.  Well thank you very much for listening everybody and thank you so much Simoney for joining me.  Next time I’m going to be speaking with Ross Linnett from Recite Me.  It’s a company that provides accessibility tools for websites and it’s something that we’ve integrated onto our website Special Risks Bureau and it really is quite incredible what it can do and also his story as to how he built that software and what he’s trying to achieve.  If you’d like a reminder of the next episode, please drop me a message on social media or visit the website www.practical-protection.co.uk.  And don’t forget, if you’ve listened to this as part of your work, please do contact us and you can claim a CPD certificate.  So again, thank you very much Simoney.

Simoney:     Oh, thank you very much for having me, it’s been a pleasure.

Kathryn:       Thank you, bye.

Simoney:     Bye.

Kathryn:      Bye.

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Simoney Kyriakou - I Will Find You

Hi everyone, this week I am chatting to Simoney Kyriakou from Financial Adviser.

Simoney is on a mission to clear up rogue lead generation firms. From the start we are clear on this, not all lead generation firms are iffy, there are many out there that are completely reputable. As with anything in life you get some good and you get some bad.

I'm chatting to Simoney about the ways that some lead generation firms are behaving, that isn't seen to be the best when it comes to client services. We are talking about ways that client's data is sometimes shared, the way that advertising is being used to confuse customers and how this is affecting the insurance industry as a whole.

The 3 key takeaways:

  1. Some of the key tactics that are used by lead generation firms, to target their audience.
  2. How client's data can be used and sold once it is with a lead generation firm.
  3. The responsibility of adviser firms to know the methods that are being used by lead generation firms, especially if they are unregulated.

Next week I will be chatting with Ross Linnett from Recite Me, a communications software that is helping to improve customer's experiences across the internet, with their cloud based accessibility tool.

Kathryn:       Hi everyone, today I have Simoney Kyriacou with me from Financial Adviser.  Hi Simoney!

Simoney:     Hi there Kathryn.  How are you doing?

Kathryn:       I’m good thank you, how are you?

Simoney:     We’re all grand, we’re all grand.

Kathryn:       Brilliant.  Simoney is joining me to talk about lead gen firms that aren’t maybe operating in the most client-friendly ways, what’s happening in our industry to tackle these things happening and what to look out for and also we’re going to be chatting about their recent diversity and inclusion awards.  This is the Practical Protection podcast.  So let’s start off then Simoney.  How are you doing?  What’s the latest with you?

Simoney:     Well the latest with me, we took on two cats during lockdown, that was good.  So I’m sort of working from home, as most people are, on Financial Adviser, five days a week and looking after my child two days a week in addition and looking after the cats five days a week in addition to that.  So if anything creeps into Financial Adviser that shouldn’t be there, there’s probably reasons for it.

Kathryn:       Also – you’ve also got the husband as well that is obviously there as well to be took care of.

Simoney:     I’ve got the husband but thankfully he can mostly look after himself now and he’s quite potty trained by now so that’s a help, that’s a help.

Kathryn:       Absolutely, absolutely.  So each week we do have a truth or lie feature on the podcast and last time my Dad said that his favourite James Bond film is Goldfinger and I said that mine was Quantum of Solace and the trick is to figure out who do you think is telling the truth?

Simoney:     I think your Dad may be telling the truth.  I think you may be telling a lie because I don’t know any woman who thinks Quantum of Solace is good, even though it’s got Daniel Craig in.  I think every woman really likes the Casino Royale with Daniel Craig.  Did I say Craig David?  I meant Daniel Craig.

Kathryn:       I don’t know.  I think you said – I’m not sure.

Simoney:     One of the two, the one that doesn’t sing.  Maybe he does sing!  I saw him once in the street, we gave each other an eyeball until I realised who it was.  Daniel Craig it was, not Craig David.

Kathryn:       I was going to say – I’m getting so confused.  Right, so you are right in the fact that my Dad was telling the truth. Absolutely, Goldfinger is his ultimate film and I was saying a lie.  My actual favourite is Live And Let Die.

Simoney:     Nice, I love that one.

Kathryn:       Yeah, I was brought up with the James Bond films so I have to say my childhood crush was Roger Moore and yeah, Live And Let Die, absolutely.  So –

Simoney:     It’s that scene isn’t it in Harlem, when they’re walking through the streets in Harlem?

Kathryn:       Yeah, for me – well the main thing on that one, it’s the end on the train and he’s, you know, they’re going away on the train and he’s still there and that just completely really freaked me out as a kid but then obviously I was like, “Oh that’s amazing.”  Yes, we’ll move on.  So I think a lot of our listeners are going to have heard about you speaking with really quite clear passion about your work in tackling the not-so-good side of lead gen firms and something I want to say as well very early on is that we’re not saying that all lead gen firms but just that we’re getting some – as in any kind of organisation, you know, there are good ones and bad ones and we’re getting some that are really starting to stand out now so can you give everyone a little bit of a back story about this side of things please?

Simoney:     Yeah sure.  In about 2010/2011, we were writing a lot about lead gen firms because they were sort of – they seemed to be springing up all over the place and not all of them seemed to be operating in a very fair, transparent and not misleading fashion.  So when RDR came in in 2013, they seemed to go underground.  A lot of the lead gen firms seemed to go very, very quiet and, you know, they sort of – they didn’t kind of crop up that much on our radar.

Every now and then they did but when Covid sent the UK into lockdown, we started to see a lot more adverts cropping up on people’s timelines.  I think you’ve mentioned this as well on your Facebook and Twitter feeds and sort of insurance marketing company Rocketer started to do some collation, like look at the data analysis on some of these and where they’re coming from and found that, because sort of advertising rates were so low during the first sort of few weeks of lockdown, people had just been pulling ads left, right and centre so people like Facebook and other sort of social media sites were offering some good deals to anyone who would take them up on it and unfortunately that sort of gave almost free reign for kind of some spurious lead generation firms to come into the – come into the ether as it were.  And as you say, it’s not all lead gen firms but there have been some quite – how shall we say, scaremongering tactics employed and I think that’s a real worry.  People are already scared and people were very, very scared in March and April because we just did not know what was going to happen and every day you turn on the news and it seemed to be something worse and you suddenly see these lead gen ads popping up.  It sort of targets you when you’re very vulnerable and that’s a danger in itself.

Kathryn:       Yeah absolutely.  As you say, I definitely got them and I started making a little bit of noise about it because it just – it really got to me and like you say, you know, it was March/April time and all of a sudden – obviously I won’t name names but all of a sudden I was getting targeted ads on social media, especially Facebook, and obviously I live in the same area as my husband, as you can imagine, and he wasn’t getting them on his Facebook account.  So the first thing there was okay, so what they’re doing is – at the moment they’re targeting women, probably with children in this area and it just felt so, so wrong that they would be doing that and it was that kind of thing of, well – I mean, I know at the end of the day some people will probably listen and just think, “Well it’s business, you know, you need to get over it.  It’s what businesses do, you know, they need to make money and they’re going to do these tactics,” but it’s also – it’s just not right.

I mean, I just couldn’t do that and I know people have said to us before, “Do you do Facebook advertising?  Do you do this, do you do that?”  And it was the case of well, “We do put out there what we do,” but for us, obviously we’re very different to a lot of companies, but for us it’s really awkward because I said to them, “Well what do I do then?  Do I put out an ad on Facebook saying, you know, ‘Do you have multiple sclerosis?  I can step in and help you.’”  It just never felt right to do it that way but anyway, so obviously we’re not a lead gen firm so we’ll move back on to the main topic.  So obviously there’s been a lot of work being done and I remember seeing you on a talk, I can’t remember the name of the exact one but a talk recently and you just very, very clearly like looked at the camera and said, “I will find you and there is no hiding from me.”  And it was amazing and it really did sort of like feel like, “Okay I’m not going to get on the wrong side of Simoney.”  But what kind of things can we do to improve the standards within this area?  I mean, what kind of tactics are generally being used by these lead generators that are catching people out?

Simoney:     Yeah, I think I’ll start with that first, you know, sort of look at the tactics they’re employing.  Some of the tactics – I mean I’ve already mentioned it’s scaremongering, two – you’ve mentioned that’s it’s almost targeting and tailoring so they’re using data and for all the furore that was created over Cambridge Analytica and even now with the recent Channel 4 investigation into how data has been used in the 2016 American elections, we know that our data is being used and abused to target us.  So, if women are being targeted, if people who have known disabilities or who talk about it on social media – they are being targeted, this is a very dangerous thing to do, particularly at a time when people have – people’s anxiety is increased.

I think I was talking to someone from – I think it was Mind, a few weeks ago saying that whereas before you’d say maybe one in every four people in the UK on average would have a mental ill health episode, they were starting to see one in every two people reporting heightened levels of anxiety and sort of feeling depression, not necessarily clinical depression but having episodes – depressive episodes.

So people’s mental ill health – mental health is very fragile at the moment and if you are preying on people by using tactics such as, “Oh, you know, in this sort of pandemic, the worst could happen.  You could be without a job, you could get very, very ill and unable to work.  Who’s going to look after your children?”  Or in the worst case, you know, with life insurance, you’re sort of saying, you know, “Women your age in your area can get life insurance for £10 a month,” and you think, “Well that sounds really good.”  And of course we know that’s not true.  I mean, all you have to do is go on to an actual insurer’s website and use their sort of online calculators to know that actually what’s tailored for you could be very, very different.  Your life insurance – if it’s only £10 a month, it’s probably not very good. You know, what are the terms and conditions?  You know, is it tailored to you?  Is it appropriate?

So at best, at the very best, people could use those scaremongering adverts to get some form of protection in place that they never had before.  At worst, they’re getting something that’s completely inappropriate, totally ends up being far more expensive when they actually sort of fill in all the questionnaires and go through and on top of that, their data isn’t just being shared with one company, it’s being shared with three or four different companies.  So you have no idea how your data is being used.  I could give this thinking, “Well this is just insurer A who has used this lead gen firm.”  Actually, I could have my data shared with 10 different financial advisers buying those leads and the data could be going out to three or four different insurance companies, all of whom start talking to me and it might make me so confused that a), I may never get the insurance I need ‘cos it will just put me off and b), it could put me off financial advice all together.  So you could end up in a completely worse financial situation and that’s why I think these lead gen ads are completely – I’m trying to think of a polite way of saying what I want to say.

Kathryn:       Irresponsible?

Simoney:     Irresponsible is a good word to use.  In some ways that might be being a bit kind to the worst offenders.  I think the worst offenders are actually cruel to prey on people who are emotionally vulnerable at this stage.  I think it is cruel and it could, yeah, it could put people off financial advice forever and that’s a terrible thing as well – to mean – it means that someone could end up in a worse financial state than they started out or put off from getting financial advice, leaving their own families unprotected should the worst happen.  Yeah.

Kathryn:       Yeah, I think as well there was something that I’ve seen quite a few bits about and I think it’s – it is one of those things that like are absolute no, no, no, no, no, so maybe it’s a good thing for companies to know just in case they’re doing it and don’t realise, but isn’t there something as well about people using like the image of National Insurance cards and passports in like – in their outreach and they’re like – they’re really not meant to do that are they?

Simoney:     Yeah, it’s – you always see that at sort of like the bottom – if you’re reading a newspaper article, it sort of has it at the bottom saying, “People in Merton have been trying this trick,” or, “People aged 60 to 70 have been looking at –” and it’s got the NI card there which almost makes it look like it’s official.

Kathryn:       Yeah, a bit government-linked or something.

Simoney:     As if it’s government-linked, yes.  “Oh it’s National Insurance, that must be safe.”  You know, it’s like the FCA like recently has been discouraging people from using their logo on its website because it’s not meant to be used in that way.  It sort of almost gives people like a quality assurance mark if they see an NI card or they see a close-up of an HMRC or a Tax Office thing, it makes it look official.  So yeah, there’s a real perception issue and it’s these sort of things that makes the general consumer distrust insurance or distrust the whole financial services market, just at a time where we’re trying to rebuild and restore trust, you know, we get – every few years we sort of get to a stage where people are, “Yes, I trust financial advisers with my money,” and then suddenly something like this happens and they just sort of go straight back into their shell.

Kathryn:       Yeah.

Simoney:     And think, “Well, I’ll just stick it under my bed then ‘cos I don’t trust anyone.  You’re all out to get me.”  This is what the average consumer will say.

Kathryn:       Yeah, oh absolutely.  I was going to say, my parents are exactly the same and I – obviously I work in financial services and, you know, I do all the steps to make sure that people I’m working with are, you know, reputable and that I’m comfortable and that, you know, potentially if I signpost people to people, I make sure that I’m comfortable with that person.  And with my Mum and Dad, I’ve tried so hard, so, so hard to get them to look at some financial advice and my Mum just does that thing where she just, “Hm mm, hm mm,” you know, and someone will be chatting to her, “Hm mm, hm mm,” and then it’s like afterwards and, you know, and you finish chatting to her and she’s just like, “Nope, I’m quite happy with what I’m doing, thank you.”  And you’re just like, “Agh,” you know, and it’s just ‘cos – I mean she doesn’t trust anyone.  She doesn’t even trust the banks, so, you know, she doesn’t trust anybody at all with money.  So, you know, there is those people that are – that’s from her hearing about people who had things go wrong with them and again people who are given wrong advice or maybe not had things properly explained to them like people she works with who maybe invested money into ISAs or something through the bank and it wasn’t clearly explained to them that it was like a stocks and shares ISA and all of a sudden all the money went so that made my Mum very nervous of doing that.

You know, it’s – there’s just so many little things I think that can add up in different areas across financial services that then gets lumped upon anybody who’s working in finance.  Sort of like a bad experience in one place is kind of seen as a bad experience everywhere.

Simoney:     Yeah.

Kathryn:       What do you think it is that lead gen firms are kind of trying to achieve in a sense?  I mean, clearly they’re trying to get leads but do you think that there’s anything extra that they’re trying to do?

Simoney:     Let’s say that we are reputable lead gen firms.  Let’s say that we think that we have the technology and the nouse to be able to put people in touch with insurers and with advisers that can give them advice.  We may believe, and I’m being really generous here – we may believe that we can improve people’s access to the financial products they need, that we can act as the middle man, the introducer.  We can put Mrs Miggins of Hinchley Lane in touch with the right financial adviser and with the right investment product and the right insurance product and that will do her very nicely because Mrs Miggins wouldn’t have been able to get this otherwise, she wouldn’t have known where to go.  So we could think of ourselves as sign-posters, introducers, middle – the middle makers, the match-men, the Cilla Black of the financial services world, you know.

Going back to lead gen, so lead gen I think really need to sort of – if they’re doing that, if they’re performing that role, I think they need to do it very responsibly and with a very straightforward manner and say, “This is what we’re going to do, this is where we’re going to pass your data.  Thank you Mrs Miggins, so we have four insurers that are on our books.  We’re going to pass your details with your permission to all these four insurers.  Could you please sign a form saying you’re happy for us to do that?  We can also signpost you to three advisers in your area, one, two, three.  Are you happy for us to do that as well and they may contact you?”  That I think is being open about it but generally I think obviously they’re out to make money because let’s face it, no one does things purely out of altruism.  You know, they’re not charities, they’re not social workers, they’re out to make a buck for themselves.  So the fact that Mrs Miggins doesn’t know that her data is going to three or four different insurers, she doesn’t know that when she gets a call from one financial adviser that she’s not going to get a call from another financial adviser from a different firm.  Quite often, these – you’ll get a phone call from someone saying, “Oh, we’re calling from your insurer.”  You’re like, “Which one?”  They’re like, “Oh well, you know, we work with Scottish Widows, we work with Aegon.”  You’re like, “Really, well which one of those is my insurer?  What’s my policy number?”  You know?

Kathryn:       Absolutely.

Simoney:     But people don’t always have the nouse to say that and in the middle of a pandemic when you’ve got a million other things on your mind, you hear the words ‘life insurer’ on the phone, you may well think the worst has happened.  I think all lead generation firms – if they are doing a service, they need to be really, really open about everything and then I think people would go into it with their eyes open and say, “Okay, fair enough, I appreciate I could get up to four or five calls from different people,” but if it saves them having to shop around and all they have to be is reactive and answer the phone, then that might suit some people.  But I can’t always blame financial advisers for using lead gen firms.  Quite often, if you are a sole trader particularly, you may need to use lead gen because you are so busy, you are inundated – even in lockdown when you’re doing Zoom calls rather than driving half way up the M1, you still might be really, really ultra-busy.  You’ve got loads of forms to fill in, you’ve got loads of admin and paperwork and regulatory matters to deal with so I can understand why they might say, “Well, for a portion of my business, I’d quite like to buy some leads.”

Kathryn:       Yeah.

Simoney:     And you may not investigate that.  You may not want to interrogate where those leads are coming from or how they’re generated but I think – I hope with the noise that we’re making in the industry and I know AIG has been very strong in looking into this and –

Kathryn:       Yes.

Simoney:     Rocketer and quite a few firms have come up and said, “Look, here’s some data on it, we really need to start tackling this.”  I think the noise might make financial advisers wake up a little bit more and say, “This is – right, I’d better just check where my leads are coming from and how they’re being generated,” and it will give them the opportunity to move to someone who’s a bit more reputable or to find other ways of getting those leads in.

Kathryn:       Absolutely.  I was going to say I think, you know, adviser due diligence about knowing where these leads are coming from is absolutely essential, you know, because as you say, it’s – some people need to buy leads in, especially possibly if you’re a start-up as well, you know, it may be that you don’t have lots of people coming to your website or to you through different means in the local area and to start building up your portfolio you may buy some leads in and there’s nothing wrong with doing that because ultimately you are buying a service but it’s just making sure that the people that you are using are obviously, as you say, reputable.

So I think it’s fair to say as well that – like we just mentioned before, improving the image of financial services is something that all of us are constantly trying to do and it’s probably why this, you know, sort of like what’s been happening with the lead gen firms over the last few months especially, is like really starting to stand out.  What’s happening in the industry?  Just for people to know, so what is happening in the industry in a sense to tackle all of this Simoney?  So I know you’ve mentioned obviously there’s been some studies, some data analysis.  Is there anything sort of kind of intense coming up or anything or, you know, sort of a little bit that’s going to be more sort of like – there’s going to be rules maybe in place to say, “Right well this is a no and this is yes,” or something?

Simoney:     There have been calls for some rules and some regulations.  I think you probably saw the Protection Review report on this and, you know, calling for sort of better verification and some underlying standards to be put in place so that there can be better checking, advisers can feel more confident that the leads they’re getting are from reputable and verifiable sources and knowing that, from the consumers’ point of view, knowing that their data is being protected as a result of these more stringent checks.  That’s a very important thing to do.  I don’t know quite how far along we are with that but I really would hope that that’s already been put in place.  A lot of firms have sort of signed up to that or – not necessarily signed up to it but they’ve sort of come out in support of it and said, “Yes, we’d be very pleased to see something like that happen.”

I think one problem we have is that, although the FCA is really strong on consumer protection, the FCA does not regulate protection.  It does regulate some areas of the insurance market but it doesn’t regulate protection.  I think it’s only a matter of time before they do.

Kathryn:       Yeah.

Simoney:     And with the RDR, they said, “Well we won’t regulate protection because we understand protection is sold and not bought, therefore you need to have commission structures in place as an incentive for people to buy insurance.”  So they said they wouldn’t regulate it as part of RDR but I know currently the Treasury is looking at the whole of the retail financial services market and how it’s regulated and there are calls from the PFS, the CII, from the Association of Mortgage Intermediaries, from all of these bodies to have a more holistic financial advice market review and to bring in mortgages within that scope, to bring in insurance within that scope.  If we have FAMR II, it will bring insurance in and I know that in my working life, I will see the FCA start to regulate protection.  You can see it coming.  In its sector review earlier this year, I love the reviews that it puts out every sort of January, February because it looks holistically at everything where protection has fallen down and it had pages and pages on healthcare, critical illness cover products, how complicated the wording is, how complicated income protection can be, why is it undersold, why is it underbought, what are the barriers to entry on IP?  The FCA doesn’t regulate that so why is it looking at it in a sector report?  It’s looking at it because it needs to understand it and it needs to understand it because it’s seen that there can be consumer detriment in those areas.  It will not be long before the FCA starts to regulate them.

Kathryn:       So it’s something that people really need to –

Simoney:     If you get on board now, if you make sure you tidy up your leads, you tidy up – you get your verification, you get the protection, you sign up to – or you adhere to the guidelines that have been laid down by people like Protection Review to make sure that you know where all your leads are coming from – everything’s traceable, everything’s trackable – track and trace, track and trace!

Kathryn:       But not the Government system, let’s just –

Simoney:     No because as we know, that data has been used for spurious advertising purposes, you know, it’s been sold on.  I knew this would happen, you know, I knew.  It should surprise nobody and this is one thing that the conspiracy theorists really get me – they use their mobile phones to complain about track and trace and say how they would never do track and trace because the Government’s got all your data and they’re posting it on their Android or on their Huawei or their Iphone.  I’m thinking, “You’ve got a locator chip in your phone and everyone knows where you’ve been.”  I mean, nothing – unless you’re completely off-grid, nothing is sacred any more but we don’t live in an off-grid world, we live in a connected world.

Kathryn:       That’s true.

Simoney:     But in terms of financial services, that can actually be a good thing if everything is used in the right way and, you know, using that data – the sort of big data that you can get can be sort of applied in an intelligent way to market more effectively to the right people and to market the right product and the right service to the right target audience in a fair and honest and not misleading way and that’s what I would like to see and I’m sure that’s where the FCA is going to go.

Kathryn:       Absolutely.  I mean, what kind of risks do financial advisers face if they’re not checking how legitimate the leads are?  I mean, especially if the firm that they’re using is non-regulated.  From my understanding, if you are buying leads in, if you’re buying it from a regulated firm, there are some kind of level of protection as a financial adviser but if you are buying them and sourcing them from non-regulated firms then that means in a sense if anything isn’t necessarily above board, then that’s going to fall upon the adviser themselves who’s buying them.  Is that right?

Simoney:     Well yes, I mean you mentioned the words due diligence and that’s the absolutely critical thing here.  Like if a financial adviser has done his or her due diligence on anything that he or she has bought from a regulated, well known insurance firm and the insurer has done something wrong that the IFA could not have known about and that the consumer could not have known about, then the burden of fault lies with the insurer and it can be provably so and the compensation schemes will kick in and that will be quite – well it should be quite straightforward however the client is still the adviser’s.  Whether the client ends up with an unregulated or a regulated product or has gone through a regulated or unregulated introducer, the client belongs to the adviser so therefore the advice is regulated.  So the adviser is still liable for wrong advice or mis-advice.  It doesn’t mean to say that the adviser has been dodgy, quite often they have done everything in good faith but there is a case of not doing your due diligence.

If you have gone to unregulated lead introducers and you haven’t checked, you haven’t done your due diligence then the burden is on you.  The client is yours and the regulators will not see it like that and if it has to go to – it may even go to court, you know, you could end up in a small claims court so you can’t rely on sort of washing your hands and saying, “Well, I knew that my client needed a good life insurance product but I didn’t know that the lead gen person was dodgy and not doing their duty properly.”  I think there’s enough – we should know enough now to not be able to claim ignorance.  What is it, ignorance is no defence in law?  Really and I think, you know, anyone trying to rely on the ignorance defence is probably trying to – probably not going to be very successful in using that as a defence.

Kathryn:       Absolutely.  My parents were police officers and yeah, that was always something that they would say, is that ignorance is no defence whatsoever.  What do you recommend to people that are listening, you know, if somebody is offering them leads to buy, I mean, I have to say, I am absolutely fed up with the amount of messages I get on LinkedIn saying, “I really think it would be nice for us to sort of like get to know each other, you know, we’re in the same network.”  And I think, “Oh fantastic, yeah let’s say hi,” and the next few days or so you just get messages upon messages of like, “I’ve got amazing leads,” and you’re just like, “Okay.”  You know, I mean, we don’t buy leads so it’s just something that doesn’t – isn’t set up for ourselves but what should – for firms and advisers who are buying leads, is there anything that they should be looking out for that’s a sign of, “Yeah, that possibly is coming from an okay source,” and then anything that makes maybe – should be a red flag to go, “Ooh, I’m not too sure if that’s necessarily been done completely right.”

Simoney:     Yeah, I think first of all look at the priorities of your firm.  If you’re concentrating on lead generation rather than protecting your existing clients and making sure that their reviews are all done and that they’re up to date and that their policies are renewed, if you’re concentrating on those clients and everything is hunky dory, then fine, you can start looking for new leads but if you’re not paying attention to policy lapses and if you’re not looking after your existing clients then what’s the point of getting new leads?  You’re sort of – you’re just sort of almost plugging a – or sort of putting a sticking plaster over a very, very leaky hole, you know.  Concentrate on client retention before lead generation.

Kathryn:       Yeah.

Simoney:     I think you also need to be careful about clawback rates as well if you aren’t paying attention to where your leads are coming from.  There is a great likelihood that these policies will be cancelled or that the client will just ditch them after a year or so and you could be liable for huge clawback rates so again there’s a financial – there should be a financial disincentive for just using any old lead generator.  I mean, where you can, try and find out how many other financial advisers in your area have used them.

Kathryn:       Yeah.

Simoney:     Speak to your insurers that you have signed agreements with them.  Ask them, do they ever do any business with this XY&Z lead generator.  Do a very quick internet search.  See if there’s been anyone complaining about them.

Kathryn:       Yeah.

Simoney:     You know, have a look on warnings and speak to Protection Review.  Maybe they know if anyone’s sort of been flagged to them as a potentially disreputable person.  Look on places like Trustpilot or VouchedFor to see if there’s any information on there.  Use your network to find out what you can about them.  Just like you would when – you just wouldn’t pick up the very first card that comes through your door saying, “Dodgy Geezer Roof Company,” you just wouldn’t say, “Oh I’m going to ring up Dodgy Geezer Roof Company, he’s got a nice shiny ad he’s just stuck through my door.”  No, you’d look on Trustpilot, you’d look up Checkatrade, you’d see what work they’d done in the area, you’d check local Facebook groups to see what this person’s like and then if everyone’s saying amazing things about him or her, it gives you a sort of sense of confidence that actually they’ll do a decent job on your roof.  You just wouldn’t –

Kathryn:       No.

Simoney:     If you wouldn’t trust someone with your house, why would you trust your clients’ financial futures with someone?  So I think you need to be very careful about that.  I’m not saying don’t use lead gen, I’m just saying you’ve got to be very careful about where you get them from and the information is all out there.

Kathryn:       Yes.

Simoney:     It’s out there, it’s not all hidden.  You don’t have to sort of do funny handshakes in order to find out, you know, the truth about a company.  It’s all there on the internet for everyone to see.

Kathryn:       Well fantastic, thank you Simoney for giving obviously that background and all that information to us.  We’re going to sort of like have a little bit of a chat on some other things quite quickly before we finish up.  But you recently had your diversity and inclusion awards which was brilliant and I was really happy obviously that we were able to – to sort of – that we stood out in a couple of the categories.  How was it doing the diversity – I mean, it’s a huge thing at the moment isn’t it, diversity and inclusion?  It seems to be everywhere.  I mean, how was it for doing that?  I mean, what were the entries like?

Simoney:     It was really quite exciting because when we sort of came up with this idea in 2017/2018, I hadn’t gotten pregnant so I was really sort of excited to do the first one in 2019 and then I – obviously I got knocked up so – I say got knocked up, I mean it was very carefully planned through the IVF process so – so basically I missed the very first inaugural diversity awards so I was really looking forward to this year’s entries and when I saw the range and quality and depth of the entries submitted across all the categories, I was actually quite blown away because you sort of expect actually a little bit of tick box mentality with this like, “Oh yeah, diversity – we’ve hired a woman to the board,” or, “Oh yeah, we changed the sort of language in our adverts to show that we’re more flexible.”  I mean, those are the easy win-win situations but these companies had gone over – and yourself obviously included, that’s why Cura won those two awards, you know, it’s just that extra work put in to make the workforce not just diverse but to feel included, for everyone to feel that they’re part of something big, they’re part of something better, that there’s career progression, that the workplaces are a safe and encouraging environment for them to thrive in and then on top of that, you know, to use that as a springboard to reaching out into communities and to the local area.  Obviously smaller companies tend to have a smaller, more local reach but the impact that some small companies can have on their immediate locality is absolutely amazing.

And then seeing how some of the larger firms have been able to replicate that in different locations around the UK and sort of reaching out to different charities and partnering with sort of autism societies or to partner with neurodiverse agencies to help think about ways to improve the workplace and improve the client experience.  I just thought those things were really fascinating; things that perhaps I’d never even thought of before because we can all sort of sit back on our laurels and say, “Yeah, we’re diverse, you know, we’d never actively discriminate.”  But sometimes you have to challenge yourself and think, “Well am I passively discriminating?  Am I being lazy in the way I’m hiring?  Am I being lazy in the way I’m going about my recruitment?  Am I just saying that?”

Do you know, so many times in my life, you know, I was turned down for promotion opportunities and actually one guy – I don’t know if he even knew that I was engaged to George at the time – he actually – ‘cos George and I have worked in the same place – he actually said to George, “Ah, I’m so sick of trying to hire female editors because they just go off and have babies all the time.”  And he said that to George who was engaged to me at the time and I had gone for a job.  That guy is no longer there and the company is no longer there and I am editor and to be honest actually, I have never felt so supported in my workplace that I do now.  I mean, it’s absolutely amazing.  We’ve got a really great managing editor, managing – my editor-in-chief I should say who’s my direct boss.  An amazing like overall sort of director – he’s based in the US but he’s so hands on and he’s really – he’s a really good guy.  He listens, he reacts.  I think, you know, I mean, the FT has always been a really great place to work but personally I feel really supported as a female in the workplace, as a female mother in the workplace.

Kathryn:       Yeah.

Simoney:     But, you know, I’ve worked in other places where they said, “Oh you can’t work from home.  It’s impossible to work from home, you know, you’ll just be there sort of watching TV or Good Morning TV all day.”  Like, really?  And now Covid has made everyone work from home and suddenly all these little lies that traditional employers have used saying, “Oh no, the role requires someone to be in the office,” basically the role requires a man who doesn’t have to be at home looking after the kids.  That’s basically sort of –

Kathryn:       The traditional.

Simoney:     That’s how it’s been, you know.  You can have a career or you can have kids, you can’t have both.  So I think Covid has kind of knocked that lie right out of the window and I don’t think it will ever be able to be accepted back in the workplace.  So when I sort of see the way that these companies had not just taken those sort of old tropes and thrown them away but put in new systems, new standards, employed new agencies, worked with charities and third parties, even brought in sort of specialist external consultants to scrutinise and examine their own policies.  “Have we done things the right way?  And if we haven’t, find where we’ve done wrong, tell us how we can do things better.”  That takes a lot of humility and to see huge companies who you might think, “Oh these companies are big nameless, faceless organisations,” actually really sort of checking their own privilege and just making sure that they were doing the right thing and getting other people to verify it.  I thought that was amazing.  I was really, really impressed, really impressed with that and it’s given me a great deal of encouragement for the way things will go in the future, that we’re not going to just pay lip service to things like diversity and inclusion, we’re actually going to make a workforce and a workplace work for everyone.  Not just now but in the future.  That was amazing, it was really encouraging.

Kathryn:       I think it’s one of those things as well, you know, obviously we’ve been chatting about it at different times and I think a big thing as well is the fact that it’s, you know, when people say diversity and inclusion, I think a lot of people immediately think gender and race and then don’t seem to think about all the extra stuff as well and some perfect things that you were just saying there as well, so obviously there’s gender, there’s race, there’s religion, there’s sexuality, there’s age and there’s health and obviously like one of the things that you were saying there and I was on a podcast – I did a – one of my first ones I did with Mike Adams from the organisation Purple, and like he said, you know, he’d been into so many organisations for so many years where they’ve said, “We can’t possibly, you know, basically you’re saying to us that we should hire more people with disabilities who maybe can’t get into the workplace.  We can’t possibly adapt to them working from home all the time, it’s just not what we do.”  And he said, you know, it’s probably not too far into lockdown, but he just said, “Within two days, this country changed into a work at home,” and I mean, that’s a real kick in the teeth for everybody who’s been told, you know, mothers or people with disabilities or any other situation.  I’m sure I’m probably missing lots of situations when I’m saying that but, you know, for them to say sort of like, “No, you can’t work from home,” and it’s like, “No, well actually I can.”

It could be as well, even people if they maybe have to travel significant distances and commutes.  They’re maybe staying away from the family home for most of the week in a city and then going back at the weekend, you know, they’re missing out on so much time with their family.  I think as well, a lot of the time, you know, because people sometimes ask me about different things that we do to adapt for our team and different things and it’s often – it’s not necessarily huge things.  A lot of the time it is just speaking to somebody and saying, “Right, what can we do to help you to make this more of a, you know, sort of a company that you’d want to stay with forever?” in a sense.  And it can just be the simplest things that you change.

I know one of the examples I like to use – and it’s maybe, you know, obviously it wouldn’t necessarily suit everybody but, you know, we’ve got a couple in our team, a couple of guys who, you know, they do seasonal sports.  You know, one of them really likes to play hockey, one of them likes to do football and, you know, they’ll say to us and they’ll always ask each year, you know, “Is there any chance that I can maybe change my hours on this day and that day each week just so I can be part of the local team?”  And it was just like, “Yeah, you know, it’s – absolutely.  If you just need to move your hours around a little bit, that’s fine.”  You know, it’s not huge amounts, it’s maybe an hour earlier finish one day and they’ll work that extra hour somewhere else in the week and you find that people really like that and as well they’re going to find that the next, you know, if they are thinking of maybe, “Oh well, you know, I was thinking should I move, you know, try something new or something?” they’re not going to find that.  Well in the – there’s not many places that would do that and they know then that you care about how they are and also their health in that situation, you know, being fit which is really good.  But yeah, it’s those little things, it doesn’t have to be like technology that’s thousands upon thousands of pounds.  It doesn’t have to be an inconvenience, it can just be a really simple talk and then just a simple change.

Simoney:     Yeah, absolutely.

Kathryn:       And I know another thing we were going to chat about as well, I know you mentioned it obviously – we do speak a lot about insurance obviously on this podcast and it is an insurance we are going to chat about that’s not necessarily my specific area but I know you said with the IVF that you had some private medical insurance and different things so how did that work for you and what was that experience like?

Simoney:     Yeah so with our office – as I said, the FT is a great place to work ‘cos they do – they give you really good benefits and they do try and find ways of making – if they value you, which they do value their staff, they will find ways of making things work well for you.  So they have PMI and it’s a good benefit obviously – it’s a benefit that’s taxable so, you know, it does come with a slight cost in terms of your tax code but obviously it doesn’t cover things like if you’re going to have implantation or if you’re going to have hospital stays because of IVF.  It doesn’t cover IVF.  Not our one, I think there are some policies that may well do and it would be great if more health policies covered IVF because there are a host of associated things that happen as a result of the IVF treatments that you would need to have cover for.

But the support services have been great because I felt that I could sometimes just call up the nurses and say to them, “Look, I’m really struggling at work.”  When I did get pregnant, I was like, “I’m really struggling at work.  My back is really killing me, you know, I need to speak to the occupational health but I don’t really know what to ask for, you know, I don’t want to just be given a few exercises.  What sort of things can I expect what might happen?  What can I do put in place things that will last me through the course of my pregnancy when I’m in the office?”  And they were really, really helpful, you know, they gave me really good advice.  These are trained nurses, trained nursing professionals that are on the other end of the line.  And I would encourage anyone to look at what workplace benefits you’ve got.  If you’ve got a good insurance, whether it’s group income protection or PMI and it comes with the ability to pick up a phone and call a nurse, that’s amazing.

But I mean there were quite a lot of issues – I had quite a lot of issues with my IVF and there are certain elements that could not be – that even my – and I went to a really sort of quite expensive clinic up in London ‘cos we couldn’t do it on the NHS.  We had to go privately – even they didn’t have a lot of the equipment that was needed to sort of look at other things that might be wrong.  So for things that are specialist equipment – even though I was undergoing IVF, my PMI covered consultations with Harley Street doctors for X, Y and Z so for specific conditions.  So rather than have to shell out another lot of £100 for a consultation or £1,200 in this case, you know, the insurance was able to pick it up.  Not because it was for IVF but because it was for looking at endometriosis or looking for – to see whether I had fallopian blockages or whatnot.  So those things I found really, really helpful ‘cos I mean we must have spent like over £42,000 on IVF –

Kathryn:       Wow.

Simoney:     To get Charles so yeah it was, you know, we’re not – not all at once, we’re only journalists my goodness but, you know, and do you know what, I love it when my family and other people tell us how to spend our money.  “Oh, you could buy this, you could buy some new furniture.  You could buy a car.”  And I’m thinking, “Thanks for spending my money, we’ve got other things that are slightly more important to spend money on.”

Kathryn:       Yeah.

Simoney:     And I’m going to say, the PMI was also really, really helpful because under the cover that we have, I don’t want to name the provider –

Kathryn:       Of course.

Simoney:     But it’s whoever provides the PMI for the FT workplace so you can find that out, of course the real beggaring thing was, when I finally got pregnant after years and years and years of trying, I was really ill and I knew I had shingles.  I went to the A&E and the doctor who was half my age said, “You haven’t got shingles.”  Anyway, the next day it came up so badly.  I knew I had shingles so I went to the GP and she said, “Oh, you’ve got shingles.  Where did you go?”  I said, “I went to St Helier.”  She said, “Right I’m transferring you to St George’s, you need to go there now and keep away from people.”  I said, “I’m pregnant by the way.”  She said, “Ah, great.”  So basically the steroids that I’d been taking to help reduce the endometriosis had caused my immune system to be suppressed to the extent that my latent – it’s the herpes zoster virus isn’t it that causes chicken pox?  The latent virus, it stays in your system.  It came out –

Kathryn:       Right.

Simoney:     As shingles.  I was hooked up to an IV drip in a separate ward in the infectious diseases unit at St George’s on the hottest week – two weeks pregnant after IVF, you know, and I knew I had twins, early stage twins but I was terrified thinking, “How is this going to affect the baby?”  I had the very best care, like the NHS doctors were amazing and it was just so – and my boss was amazing.  She really helped me at the time, this was when I was deputy editor of FA.  She was so supportive.  Yeah, I spent three nights and – four days and three nights there and when I came out – it was so horrible, ‘cos we were so worried about the babies and everything – my husband just said, “Well ring the nurses on PMI and just see if there’s anything else you need.”  I rang them and they said, “Oh did you stay in the hospital?”  “Yeah.  There’s a but coming.  It was for basically shingles.”  She said, “Oh, every time you spend the night in hospital under your plan, you get £100.”  I was like, “I’ll go back there!  Sign me up now!”

So yeah, that has been also a real benefit because just at that time when you’re planning a family, at the time we thought we were having twins, we had a whole lifetime of expenses anticipated ahead of us plus all the expenses we were still paying off for all the treatments, to sort of be given a little bit of financial help at that time – 300 quid is not to be sniffed out.  It doesn’t sound a lot in the grand scheme of things but when you are feeling so rotten anyway, you know, when you can’t do any freelance, when you know that you’re going to go on maternity and you won’t be earning any money for a significant portion of that, to be given £300 because you spent three nights in a hospital is a really – it’s a really good benefit and again these are things that people don’t necessarily know about.

Kathryn:       Yeah.

Simoney:     Unless you pick up the phone or unless you read your terms – how many people read all their benefit statements, all their stuff that they get from the employer?  Read them.  No idea what you or your clients could be entitled to.

Kathryn:       Absolutely.  I mean, that’s one of the things that we do obviously as advisers in the protection space is, you know, is when we’re speaking to people, we say immediately, “What’s your death in service?  What is your sick pay?  What do you have through work?”  And I have to say, I think people – overall I think people are getting better actually at knowing that kind of thing but there is quite a few times that I’ll say to people, “You must find this out because one, I can’t misadvise you obviously if you’ve already got something like this.  I don’t want to be doing any kind of double-up that we don’t need here.”  But, you know, it’s just saying to them, “Speak to your HR department, you know, find out, is it in your employment contract and then find out if it is in the contract, it’s just like, okay, do you have it but if it’s not in your contract then that could mean it could potentially be removed so we need to just, you know –”  There’s so many different things to look at and I think that’s – I think the – especially as you say, like those extra bits that come with these insurances, you know, that the main bits of the insurances are incredible but it’s sometimes those extra bits that are the things that really, really stand out and prove to be incredibly helpful.

Simoney:     Yeah, I mean obviously if you are on a – if you’re on something like a workplace private medical insurance plan and you leave and you still want to keep it, you might find the premiums are raised exponentially and also it depends on how many times you’ve had to call on it I suppose.  So obviously it’s not the cheapest insurance out there which is why if your employer offers it, it’s probably a really good thing.  It is not a substitute for life insurance.

Kathryn:       No, or critical illness cover.

Simoney:     Or critical illness cover.

Kathryn:       Or income protection.

Simoney:     Well this is it because we looked at putting our child on our PMI but actually there is quite a big cost involved with that whereas I think if you get like a basic CI policy, I think many insurers – most insurers will cover the child up to – what is it 25k isn’t it?  Something like that as a –

Kathryn:       It depends.  Some insurers, you pick the amount with some of them.  Some of them it’s 25k, some of them I think – I’m thinking 35k – I think.  I think it really depends upon – well it’s all as well that’s to a maximum percentage of the total sum assured.

Simoney:     Yeah.

Kathryn:       But what’s interesting as well obviously with some insurers, well one insurer in particular, you can actually bolt on children’s critical illness cover to purely a life insurance policy for the adult so you don’t necessarily have to have that –

Simoney:     Yes.

Kathryn:       You know, because let’s be honest, critical illness cover is far more expensive than life insurance so if someone can’t afford the critical illness insurance themselves, it’s still maybe the potential they can cover the child for a certain level as well.

Simoney:     Yeah, so I mean these are the sort of reasons why you need to speak to a really good financial adviser such as yourself –

Kathryn:       Thank you.

Simoney:     And find out where you maybe have gaps in the protection for you and your family and where you can have the flexibility to do bolt-ons if that’s affordable or whether you can speak to your insurance provider and get a slightly better package.

Kathryn:       Yeah.

Simoney:     And for not too much more of a premium thank you very much.  But I’d say that – always check your workplace first.

Kathryn:       Yeah.

Simoney:     Always check.  I mean, we don’t have life insurance at work but we get 14 times’ death in service benefits.

Kathryn:       Yeah.

Simoney:     And like I said, my husband and I work at the same place so I mean I’m always trying to get him to fix the satellite dish on the roof and he’s always encouraging me to like clean right at the back of the oven while he’s got the gas on just to make sure it works so –

Kathryn:       No, that sounds very similar to me and Alan.  Alan was horrendously ill in August, it ended up being, you know, really, really bad food poisoning but to the point where they were saying things that you would just like – until we knew what it was, they were saying anything and everything that was terrifying and he found out it was food poisoning and I just looked at him, we were talking on video and I’m sure as many people can appreciate based on our humour, and I just looked at him and I was like, “Could you have not picked something that was on your critical illness plan?”  You know, it was just like, “I don’t want you to have a critical illness but seriously!”

But sort of like coming towards the end of everything then, so one of the things – again just going back to a little bit of something that you said a little while ago about, you know, when you get these phone calls from people and they’re a little bit dodgy.  So a few tips that I’ve given out before to people and it may sometimes be good for advisers.  They may already be doing this but to potentially remind their clients about it.  So I got a call a couple of years ago with someone saying straight away, “Oh hi, is that Kathryn?”  I was like, “Yeah.”  They were like, “Oh I’m ringing up from your insurance company.”  I was like, “Oh wonderful.”  Obviously being who I am, I was like, “That’s absolutely amazing, thank you.  What is it?”  They were just like, “Oh well I just want to check in – it’s time for you to review your cover.”  And I was like, “Brilliant.”  And they were like, “Well, can you just confirm for me the insurer?”  I was like, “Sorry, do you not have – sorry, I thought you were the insurer?”  And they were like, “Um.  Oh well I’m ringing, you know, on behalf of the insurer.”  I was like, “Oh.  So which insurer then?”  And they were like, “Oh, well it’s either Aviva, Legal & General or Scottish Widows,” and obviously I was just playing along for quite a while with this person.  I felt a little sorry for them actually.

But yeah, so I have some tips for people and the tips that I did that I think can help.  So one of the main things to sort of say tip-wise is that that is what is going to be happening is that someone is going to ring up and they’re not going to say, “I am from – ” and then name your insurer.  They’re going to say, “I’m calling on behalf of your insurer,” because that’s a different sentence.  So, “I’m calling on behalf of your insurer,” and then they may say to you, “Oh can you just confirm, you know, these details?”  And it’s just like, “Well if you’re calling from my insurer, I wouldn’t need to confirm those details.  You would have those details in front of you.”

So one of the things that I think is always a good thing – and we did this, we sent out a disclaimer at the beginning of – no, it wasn’t a disclaimer, we sent out a contact to all of our clients at the beginning of lockdown because, touch wood, luckily we weren’t notified about it for any of our clients but we did have colleagues who were having it where their clients were being called and it was being said to them, “Do you realise your life insurance won’t pay out for Covid?  You need to arrange it through us.”  Which I just is absolutely astonishing that people could actually – well I say it’s astonishing that people could do that – again, it’s business but I just couldn’t do it myself.

But anyway, and so the main things are, you know, if someone is ringing you up, you know, say to them, you know, say, “Can you confirm my policy number for me?”  If it’s a legitimate – if it’s your broker, if it’s your adviser, if it’s the insurer, they have that in front of them.  Things like the sum assured on the policy, if you don’t obviously know what your policy number is, the premium that you’re paying, the company name, the insurer name and the name of the adviser that supported you as well.  So what happened on my phone call which really started to I think flag to this person is that I asked them for their FCA number.

Simoney:     Ha!

Kathryn:       I said, you know, I was like, “What’s your FCA number?” and they were like, “We don’t usually give that out.”  And I was like, “Oh really?  Because obviously I can search the – what’s the company name then?  Can I just confirm please because I need to check that you’re a legitimate company.”  And it wasn’t long after that he hung up on me.  But, you know, you can ask them for that.  If they’re a legitimate company, they’re not going to mind being asked for that number.  You know, don’t assume if they say, “Right okay, so I’ve got you – your name’s Kathryn, I can see that you live at X, Y, Z, you know, with this postcode and this is your telephone number.”  That’s not to say that it’s legitimate because unfortunately, even if you’re not in the telephone book and everything else, your name, your number and your address is in quite a lot of places and there are places that unfortunately will sell your data going on to different companies and I think there’s something where they can actually – there’s – I think Alan told me about it where there’s something where people can get copies kind of what someone’s direct debits are and then they can see from there like the different things that they have and they just go out and target.

And I say, the main thing for me that stands out and it’s something to make everyone aware of for your clients, is just that thing of, you know, like I’ve had it before where my credit card company has called me and they’ll have said, “Oh can you confirm this?”  And I’ll go, “No I won’t but I’ll ring you back and confirm that you’re genuine.”  And there’s been the odd time that someone’s gone, “Well that’s not how this works.”  And I’m just like, “Well fine then, we’re not going to talk are we?”  You know?  There’s nothing wrong with saying, “You know what, no this isn’t – I’m not comfortable, I’m stopping here and I’ll call you back.”  If they’re a genuine firm that’s calling you then it will be fine.

So we’re coming towards the end then Simoney and we have our truth or lie feature and this time we’re going to be telling our teenage crushes.  So I’ll go first, I’m going to say that my teenage crush was Johnny Depp.  I’m just wondering who yours is?

Simoney:     My teenage crush was Mark Owen.

Kathryn:       Very nice, very nice.  It’s those dance moves isn’t it?

Simoney:     It’s the dance moves, the hips don’t lie.  No, that’s Shakira.

Kathryn:       Yeah, but he moved his hips, it’s fine.  It’s fine, we’ll just go with that and we’ll move on.  Well thank you very much for listening everybody and thank you so much Simoney for joining me.  Next time I’m going to be speaking with Ross Linnett from Recite Me.  It’s a company that provides accessibility tools for websites and it’s something that we’ve integrated onto our website Special Risks Bureau and it really is quite incredible what it can do and also his story as to how he built that software and what he’s trying to achieve.  If you’d like a reminder of the next episode, please drop me a message on social media or visit the website www.practical-protection.co.uk.  And don’t forget, if you’ve listened to this as part of your work, please do contact us and you can claim a CPD certificate.  So again, thank you very much Simoney.

Simoney:     Oh, thank you very much for having me, it’s been a pleasure.

Kathryn:       Thank you, bye.

Simoney:     Bye.

Kathryn:      Bye.

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