Ex-salesmen accuse Legal & General: Courses aimed at teaching intricacies of personal finance 'turned into sessions on how to sell products'. Nic Cicutti reports

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The Independent Online
TWO salesmen employed by Legal & General, one of Britain's biggest insurance companies, have accused the company of failing to train them to enable them to meet clients' needs.

Courses aimed at teaching the intricacies of personal finance to new staff have turned instead into sessions on how to sell certain products, they claim.

Fact-finds, detailed forms about clients that are supposed to be completed in front of a customer, were regularly filled in at the office instead, it is alleged.

Their claims follow this week's announcement by another company, Norwich Union, that it has suspended its 800-strong salesforce from giving advice to the public until they have undergone re-training.

Legal & General was ordered last month to pay pounds 400,000 by Lautro, the regulatory watchdog, for poor selling practices by its sales staff in 1991.

Michael Lloyd, 45, is a former salesman who left Legal & General in November last year.

A London cabbie up until then, he first came into contact with Legal & General in late 1992, when he received a letter telling him he had been 'chosen' for a career with the firm.

He later discovered that a large slice of his manager's earnings came from his subordinates' commission payments, increasing the pressure on him to recruit more staff.

Mr Lloyd, who lives near Milton Keynes, was offered the job of sales consultant with the company.

First, he was required to attend a one-week training course in Leamington Spa with 20 other students.

'It was very intense. The emphasis on the course itself was mainly on selling, though. We were taught things like, in case a client should ever see your diary, to make sure it was full of fake appointments.

'The thing was, they crammed so much into you that within a few days of doing the course, you forgot what they had taught you. Not just me. A lot of the other guys didn't have a clue, really. If you went to see a client, they would talk about all the technicalities and I would bluff,' said Mr Lloyd.

'I asked someone what to do if I didn't know an answer, and he said to bluff. He said he didn't know what some of the people were on about, either.

'People were desperate to sell and make some money. Some who had been made redundant from their previous jobs transferred their occupational pensions to Legal & General so that at least they could earn some commission,' Mr Lloyds recalls.

'A lot of people broke the rules. I have taken client fact-finds back to the office and filled them in there. A lot of other people did, that I know of. Not because we wanted to cheat. It just saved time.'

Mr Lloyd left in November, after the earnings his manager had forecast failed to materialise. He still owes Legal & General pounds 2,000 of an interest-free start-up loan.

During his time he went on a total of 12 days' courses, entitling him to advise on investments, pension transfers, mortgages and other savings products: 'To be honest, you can't call yourself a financial consultant after that. It took three years for me to pass the 'knowledge' and get my cabbie's badge.'

Another Legal & General salesman, a former engineer in his late 30s, said he was recruited in a similar way last year: 'Before the course started, we were given a book to read and told to get on with it. If you asked any questions, you felt a nuisance.'

Although the course he attended in April, this time in Bristol, seemed more useful, its long-term effect was ruined by the commission-based earnings system: 'You always had to try to earn money, there was no escaping it.

'Even where the company laid down guidelines over the kind of behaviour we are expected to meet, we have to bend the rules.' This salesman is now applying for a job with another firm.

A Legal & General spokesman said he could not comment on many of Mr Lloyd's points because of the possibility that the company may be taking legal action to recover what it was owed.

But he stressed: 'Our training programme was one of the first to be approved by Lautro, the industry's watchdog, which lays down rigorous requirements.

'We utterly refute the suggestion that it takes only a few weeks to become a financial consultant. Salespeople take several months to be trained and are continually re- trained and assessed annually throughout their career.'

Legal & General's recruitment policy is selective and all consultants understand that they are self- employed and their earnings depend on performance. Recruitment takes many avenues, including direct mail, the spokesman added.

(Photograph omitted)

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