Royal Life defended over new exams order

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ROYAL INSURANCE, one of Britain's biggest composite insurance companies, has defended a decision by its life insurance subsidiary, Royal Life, to make its entire 1,000-strong sales staff sit new exams to prove their competence, writes Nic Cicutti.

The company said Royal Life's decision had been entirely voluntary and was not the result of pressure from the industry's watchdog, the Life Assurance and Unit Trust Regulatory Organisation.

It rejected suggestions that its move was prompted by criticism of its training by the regulator, which has already forced other life companies to improve standards.

Royal Life insisted that the exams were merely being brought forward from their original planned date later this year.

About half the staff will be tested today, with the remainder facing similar tests next week. Results will be known in two weeks.

Meanwhile, none of the company's sales staff will be taken off the road or prevented from selling any of its products.

Royal Life's decision to make its staff sit new exams follows that of Nationwide Building Society, which last week suspended its 1,300 sales staff from selling to the public until they are retrained.

Barclays Life, a subsidiary of Barclays Bank, was rebuked by its watchdog, the Securities and Investments Board, for training and supervision errors in its 1,100- strong salesforce. In March, Norwich Union sales staff were also required to sit new exams after Lautro stepped in. The company was later fined pounds 300,000.

Kit Jebens, Lautro's chief executive, said yesterday: 'There are other companies which have decided to take action before they are pushed.' Royal Life is not seen as one of the worst offenders.

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