First Union Guarantees Good Service to Brokers

First Union Securities says it plans to start treating its retail brokers more like clients. It implemented Service First, a program to improve how it meets reps' needs.Effective July 1, all corporate offices that support producers (departments ranging from the municipal bond desk and IRA department to technical services such as computer support) are required to fulfill specific performance criteria

First Union Securities says it plans to start treating its retail brokers more like clients. It implemented Service First, a program to improve how it meets reps' needs.

Effective July 1, all corporate offices that support producers (departments ranging from the municipal bond desk and IRA department to technical services such as computer support) are required to fulfill specific performance criteria when serving brokers.

For example, any department that fails to "return or acknowledge" a broker's phone call within half a day is fined 50 dollars, which goes to the broker who experiences the service shortfall.

"The firm is finally recognizing some of the service problems that exist because of consolidation and the Everen merger," says a First Union rep on the West Coast. "It's about time. We should expect to be treated the same way we treat our clients."

First Union plans to make sure the program is working with broker satisfaction surveys and in-person interviews with brokers, clients and corporate staffers, a firm spokesperson says. Results of those surveys will be shared with brokers monthly, according to a May 5 memo from retail chief Daniel Ludeman.

The memo congratulating brokers on strong first-quarter performance and announcing the Service First concept was e-mailed to brokers and posted on the firm's Intranet.

According to brokers, the Service First program includes standards for phone and e-mail responses. The initiative also extends hours for certain departments at the firm's Richmond, Va., headquarters. Areas changing hours include the computer help desk, client services operations desk, consulting services marketing desk and human resources department--"with phones answered by live persons at all times," the memo says.

Another rep on the East Coast says the firm instituted some similar standards requiring headquarters employees to return broker telephone calls within an hour and later changed that requirement to within the same day.

"Now it's within half a day," he says, with a laugh. "You see these initiatives come and go. It will be interesting to see if anything changes."

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