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Keeping it real: File checking for a network

Ruth Preston-Hoar, Quality Monitoring Supervisor for the Tavistock Financial network, provides insight into the quality monitoring role and how she manages a split team of in-house and self-employed staff working remotely around the country

Tavistock Financial, like any network, is responsible for the advice its Appointed Representatives (ARs) give and therefore operates systems and controls to monitor the advice being given by them and to minimise the risk of customer detriment.

One of these controls is file checks. My team of Quality Monitoring Officers (better known as file checkers) performs a number of functions:

• Checking advice files – both pre and post sale, depending on the type of business and the adviser’s ongoing file quality;

• Implementing our ‘licencing’ system, which assesses whether advisers have sufficient quality levels to move onto less frequent, post sale checks for certain, lower risk, types of business, and identifying advisers’ development needs, if appropriate, to get them to that point;

• For office based checkers, also answering file check related queries from advisers who ring or email in, and, where necessary, project work.

The role of a file checker is a challenging one, needing in depth technical knowledge and the ability to see the bigger picture of an advice file clearly and comprehensively, along with strong communication skills to feedback constructively and effectively to the adviser.

My role is to manage the team, their workload and the risks involved in quality monitoring, such as checker error, inconsistency between checkers, knowledge fade/not keeping technical knowledge up to date and not having enough or too many staff for business levels.

The team is made up of employed staff who work in the office and self-employed staff who work remotely from home, spread around the country.

This presents a number of challenges, not least of which is keeping everyone informed appropriately. Obviously the remote staff don’t see things or hear discussions which occur in the office so I need to always be considering whether something should be communicated to them and how to put it in context for them; but, equally, there are some things which they just don’t need to know about so it’s always a judgement call to be made.

I use email a lot, either to the whole team or to a specific individual(s) where appropriate.

Communication challenge

When I started in the role, establishing an effective communication channel that both gave me the right amount of access to remote workers without impinging on their understandable preference not be interrupted while in the middle of working on a file, due to the in depth nature of the task, was essential.

My aim is to have a two way communication channel, being approachable and available while providing information and support without breathing down the checkers’ necks – they are highly qualified and experienced and a good manager should be there in the background facilitating their staff to get on with the job in hand.

Another challenge of supervising self-employed, remote staff is knowing whether they are working – given that they have a level of flexibility built in to their working day.

Some of my remote team members work part time, to fit around caring for children for example, while others work full time. Generally they work to a pattern each week and we have a system that flags any ad hoc days they plan to not work (i.e. funeral, dentist, or a day off).

Balancing case loads and working staff is crucial. We have a white board which shows who works when and includes details of planned holidays and ad hoc days off. I admit it’s low tech but it works for us. The board is next to the office-based staff in my department so we can all see it and share the information on it.

A further challenge I have is work allocation when you can’t see some of the people to whom you are allocating work.

Using resources to best advantage

We have a fantastic, in-house developed, cloud-based interface with our advisers, including a file checking section which advisers use to upload files for checking; checkers use to check, give feedback on and sign off cases; and I use to monitor outstanding file checks and completed case numbers, turnaround times, licences being considered and awarded and to produce checker and adviser MI.

The system gives me the flexibility to be able to respond to requests from advisers for a case to be moved up the workload queue, if they have a valid reason that it is looked at more urgently.

There are advantages to having a mix of self employed and employed staff, one of which I have found to be the flexibility to deal with different types of work.

Our self-employed staff are paid on a piece rate basis, for the number of cases they check, whereas our office-based staff are paid a salary so, generally, it is more appropriate for the office-based staff to check complex cases, say occupational pension transfers, or work intensively to explain file check standards to a new member.

The self-employed staff will often work at weekends and can therefore pick up a case that has been flagged at 4pm on a Friday afternoon! I think this gives me the best of both worlds.

We have an intranet that enables each department to share its news for that week. I make a point of doing so and always try to mention each function within the department so everyone feels included.

I also always consider whether what I’ve written might need further explaining/putting in context for the remote staff and provide that to them if necessary. This is the case with anything that happens in the office and requires me to have sufficient thinking/reflection time to consider what information the remote checkers are going to need.

Maintaining the knowledge base

We have regular team meetings, usually quarterly, in the office to provide training, information, knowledge sharing and a discussion forum, particularly on consistency matters.

This time is very important for the remote checkers as it maintains the team spirit by providing an opportunity for them to meet up with both their fellow remote checkers and the office checkers, as well as other head office staff.

Some of my file checkers are currently specialising in the consideration of licences for advisers and this sub team is made up of both office-based and remote staff. To enable face-to-face discussions between them, we currently hold some meetings offsite at a location which is accessible for both our office and remote staff.

On an individual basis, I hold regular 1-1s with my employed, office-based staff, monitoring progress against their objectives and providing an opportunity to discuss how things are going. For self-employed staff, this is less necessary but my aim is to meet with them face-to-face every six months.

In response to requests from the team, I am also looking to draw up a file checkers’ ‘bible’ to provide a reference guide for the team, particularly on consistency areas.

We also use the intranet for members of the team to record their CPD and undertake regular testing of their technical knowledge – this provides me with further MI on the file checkers.

It is vitally important that not only does each member of the team have up-to-date and relevant knowledge across all the areas that they will come across when reviewing files, so that they are providing consistent feedback to all our advisers, but that they feel part of a coherent team. That comes down to having the right systems and communication channels in place.

Every organisation will operate its systems and processes in different ways but I hope the above has provided useful and practical insight into how we manage the day-to-day issues and challenges of our quality monitoring service.

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