Going the extra mile

If ever there was a year that will make or break careers, it is this one and there are already signs of squabbling among platform providers.

But the really interesting stuff will not be about the things the platforms have to do – we all know roughly what that is – it will be the additional work they do while the bonnet is up.

Changing a piece of unsatis-factory code on a platform is not nearly as simple as many assume. Platforms are massive relational databases where everything affects everything else.

Making changes to platforms generally involves lots of investigation and testing and quite a lot of chin-stroking. As a result, platform developments tend to be much slower than people assume.

This means changes for unexciting but far-reaching things such as usability often do not get a fair crack of the whip except as part of major redevelopments – and who has time for those?

Well, this year we all do. When you are making changes to code anyway and are going to have to go through all the user acceptance and regression testing, you have a chance to change other things for the better at the same time.

This year is a great chance for platforms to listen to their users and try to deliver at least some of what they want rather than just the pure RDR change requirements.

That sounds easier than it is but, in a crowded marketplace, I have a suspicion that it will be the platforms that are good at this that will be able to cement a better position after 2012.

Skandia recently unveiled the new-look SIS platform, which still works on a bundled basis but has taken a great deal of adviser feedback on board in terms of look, feel and usability.

This was not something Skandia had to do as part of its RDR build but it has taken the opportunity to make changes it has been looking to make for some time.
Ascentric, which is gaining traction at the moment, is addressing some of the core architecture inside its system it is not satisfied with. Cofunds is adding adviser charging flexibility, which, although necessary commercially, is not compulsory for the bare bones of RDR compliance. Again, now is the time to do it.

Ascentric and Nucleus have both voiced interest in building propositions that advisers can use for execution-only/direct-to-consumer clients.

This is a time for innovation and companies that are genuinely motivated by how they can best serve advisers and their clients will be rewarded.

Speaking of reward, another priority for 2012 is finding ways of tapping into new tranches of assets. Opinion is split as to whether the platform sector can see the kind of growth that was being forecast a couple of years ago – £1.3trn was predicted – but every platform in the market has room to improve and capture additional assets under advice.

This would previously have been done by adding a new bell, whistle or tool and then the platform would sit back and watch the funds roll in.

Now the smarter platforms are working out ways to target value pools or chunks of asset they can address. I suspect this is the motivation behind Skandia’s recent move to add legacy switch technology to its platform. This will help unlock assets held in old- style plans as they are moved from commission to adviser charging.

The aforementioned direct-to-consumer offerings are part of this – as is Novia’s relentless expansion of its discretionary fund management range.

Mark Polson is principal of the lang cat