Compliance boosts call centre costs

Compliance with the Financial Services Reform Act is costing call centre operators more in staff increases and lower productivity.

Under the Act, which took effect from February 2004, financial institutions must give retail clients a product disclosure statements before transacting a financial service.

Australia's largest banks claim that if the information is given verbally, it is hard for the caller to understand, and even harder for the call centre to keep the customer on the line and potential customers on hold.

The Commonwealth Bank's implementation manager for call centre projects and campaigns, Matthew Keating, said the Act initially sought to bring relief by allowing an abridged version of the Act to be read, but instead saw a deterioration in service levels from the call centre.

"It keeps people on the telephone longer; some banks have offered an automated solution which dials the customer into an automated message," Keating said.

"We factored an increase in call times of between 30 to 45 seconds and put the resources in place, which included an additional nine staff nationally across seven call centre sites; customers need a bit of explanation as to why we are now telling them information that we didn't previously."

"There was already a high level of exposure for the banking codes of conduct - the Act aims to wrap it all up but missed the mark. "Most interestingly, home loans and credit cards are not regulated," he added.

Fiona Keough, customer support operations manager at St George Bank, has seen similar problems, claiming the complexity of the call has led to handling times as high as five minutes.

St George Bank rejected an automated solution, she said, because interaction with customers is important in maintaining high satisfaction levels. Owen Davies, Bendigo Bank public relations manager admits the legalese perplexed customers initially.

Once the Act's requirements are explained to customers, Davies said, they just want to get it over and done with and get down to banking.

"It is a lengthy document for a call centre operator to read if the customer chooses to proceed, but we have been e-mailing a lot more to customers to read and then call us back," Davies said.

"When the Act first came out we were concerned about our customers because we handle 750,000 calls annually but, depending on customer response, we have now been able to halve the response time it was taking us to open a new account."

Financial Services Union communications manager, Rod Masson, said employers need to ensure the increased workload is being addressed through increased staffing and revised workload targets.

As a result of the strain on resources, a spokesperson for the Australian Securities and Investment Commission confirmed a review is under way to assess the impact of the Act on call centre environments.

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More about Australian Securities and Investment CommissionBendigo BankCommonwealth Bank of AustraliaFinancial InstitutionsSt George Bank

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