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Cedric Stephens Service quality buzz-phrase versus outcomes

“I am happy to say that today, as the executive chairman, I have my hands firmly on the wheel. Therefore, what it means, the buck stops here. I’m 100 per cent responsible as the executive chairman for the direction, the fate, and the outcomes of this organisation. I am happy because I am responsible now.”

Those words were reportedly spoken by NCB Financial Group boss Michael Lee-Chin at an investor briefing on August 10.

Mr Lee-Chin and the interim Chief Executive Officer, Robert Almeida, told investors that the three pillars on which the company’s growth would be built going forward would rest on EGC – efficiency improvement, governance, and customer experience – and that all staff have been apprised of their respective roles in helping the business make more money by practising the principles.

The ‘pillars’ are not unlike the three controversial ESG buzzwords – environmental, social, and governance – now in vogue in some big global companies.

ESG investing, according to Forbes, assumes that environmental, social, and corporate governance factors impact a company’s overall performance. By considering ESG factors, investors get a more holistic view of the companies they back, which can help mitigate risk and identify opportunities.

Customer-service experience has been a recurring theme in this column since its inception. These words were used many times in six articles I wrote since the year started. One of them, ‘Delivering Quality Customer Service’, was published about two months ago. My friends’ experiences with financial service providers, like banks, insurance companies, and intermediaries, my interactions with these entities, initiatives of bank and non-bank industry regulators Bank of Jamaica, Financial Services Commission, and Office of Utilities Regulation, and the actions of electricity utility Jamaica Public Service Company and other companies were among my sources of reference.

The leadership of NCB Financial Group’s current executive team assumes that when employees implement the principles of EGC, their companies’ overall financial performance will improve. Why weren’t these dots connected much earlier? Is the new EGC orthodoxy an implicit admission that the former strategy was faulty?

The National Association of Insurance Commissioners in the United States argued in a recently updated paper about the importance of customer service in the context of the regulation of the insurance industry, a sector in which one of the businesses owned by NCB Financial Group operates.

“Insurance impacts the public welfare by providing financial and economic stability to the public, so governments have a vested interest in ensuring insurance companies remain solvent and treat consumers fairly by paying claims when there is a covered loss. The insurance market cannot grow unless there is public confidence in the marketplace. Insurance regulation helps foster this public confidence, which is best secured in a market environment where regulation helps ensure products are priced fairly, transparent, and readily available from many competing and reliable companies,” NAIC says.

The Indian Supreme Court expressed the same ideas in a recent judgment more concisely, saying: “An insurance company is expected to act in a bona fide and fair manner with its clients and not just care for and cater to its own profits.”

Critics have long argued that local banks and insurance companies have not found the right balance between the scales of fair treatment of customers and profit-making.

Nearly eight months have passed since the Financial Services Commission introduced new market conduct rules for the local insurance industry. Policyholders and claimants who contacted me over the last few months do not know about the new regulations. Service providers have not changed their claims management procedures. It is business as usual.

A recent example: a motor claimant from a rural parish filed a claim with an insurer’s Kingston and rural branch offices 10 days prior at the writing of this column. None of those offices has confirmed receipt of the claim or provided written evidence that it has complied with Section 142M, as is required under the new rules.

Meanwhile, the industry regulator, shockingly, has not used its inappropriately-named in-house magazine, The Invested, to discuss the December 31, 2022 protocols or explain what industry compliance will look like to consumers. There is no information on the Insurance Association of Jamaica’s website about how these rules will impact its members’ interactions with policyholders and others. No timetable explains when all the new rules will be implemented.

The recent upheaval in the executive leadership ranks at NCB Financial Group offers many important lessons to those – inside and outside the financial services industry – who look beyond the obvious.

The three pillars of Chairman Lee-Chin’s turnaround strategy for the group are not dissimilar in intent to the FSC’s new market conduct regulations for insurance companies and intermediaries. I hope that he will have more success with implementation than the insurance regulator.

Disclosure Statement: I do not own NCBFG shares nor am I a customer of the businesses its subsidiaries operate. However, I manage the banking affairs of two family members. They have been customers of National Commercial Bank for over 50 years, had several accounts and were designated VIPs.

I recommended one of the bank’s savings products to them decades ago. A problem arose with one account. One relative and I spent over 10 to 15 hours at the Constant Spring Road branch earlier this year over the course of days trying to fix the problem. Desktop computers, laptops, and tablet devices were deployed to employees and customers. None of those tools were of any help.

The floor supervisor focused more on stopping me from loudly voicing my frustration than on problem resolution. Promises were made but were never kept. The account was cancelled, and the funds were transferred to another bank. Since then, no one from NCB has contacted my relatives, who are bank shareholders, to find out why the account was closed, and the seven-digit balance not put in a time deposit account instead of deposited with another bank.

Cedric E. Stephens provides independent information and advice about the management of risks and insurance. For free information or counsel, write to: or

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