Technology is proving a great leveller, allowing small advice firms to equal, and in most cases better, the sort of client interaction that bigger banks or insurers can offer their customers.
Clients increasingly expect to be able to be able to interact using the technology of their choice, which is a big challenge for financial services firms. They do not have to be at the bleeding edge of innovation but providers and advisers need to monitor developments as smartphones and tablets replace laptops and more people have online computing at their fingertips no matter where they are.
The technology that seems especially significant for ifs is the ipad, which seems to be the most efficient way of optimising the face-to-face customer experience.
To help financial services providers engage with this process, Space 01 has compiled a report, The ipad Revolution: Implications for Financial Services and IFS Communications, looking at the use of the technology among financial services worldwide and examining best practice for interaction with customers. It identifies why the iPad could almost have been custom-made for advisers working with clients.
Laptops represented a huge development in the provision of advice but from what advisers have said to us, they often create a physical barrier with clients. Some advisers have told me this has been such an issue that they did not go online when they were with clients, not even for obvious purposes such as producing online quotations.
Some advisers would still have a conversation with a client and take down details using pen and paper to be filled in later on the laptop, or on a computer back at the office.
It is because the iPad eliminates all barriers between the adviser and the client that we believe it has the potential to revolutionise face-to-face business intimations.
By allowing the adviser to access a host of resources and information, including important client information, the iPad will be a great help in most product areas, showing, for example, the impact of inflation on savings, pension illustrations and investment projections.
I do not think it is possible to underestimate the power and persuasiveness of moving graphs and other illustrations. In protection, you can look at the various premiums, amount of cover and contrast the cost of different product terms by changing the deferred period from one to two years.
Using a slider bar, the iPad allows the adviser to present real-time scenarios and find the correct solution. This can help the sales process by ensuring the client understands what they are buying and should also help address suitability concerns.
It should also minimise the risk of having to hold unnecessary meetings – something advisers will increasingly seek to avoid as the new regulatory regime comes into force and firms emphasise the efficiency and profitability of advisers.
Unsurprisingly, the iPad has proved a phenomenon and since its launch in April last year, it has moved Apple to the top of the mobile computer market.
Less predictably, within four months of launch, it has seen a much higher take-up by business than analysts had forecast and one survey of 118 global technology chiefs showed 12 per cent of firms had already deployed iPads or tablets and more than 30 per cent more were considering doing so.
In the US, financial planners have also embraced the technology. A recent survey by Financial Planning magazine showed 10 per cent of US advisers own iPads and 15 per cent are planning to buy one.
In terms of adviser’s clients, the biggest adopters of iPads tend to be young professionals but the next biggest group is the over-45s. Owners are also generally much better off than the population at large, suggesting we will see widespread adoption among typical IFS clients.
US financial services firms that have adopted the technology in some part of their business include JP Morgan Chase, John Hancock Financial Services and Informed Choice Wealth Management.
In the UK, 40 Lloyd’s of London underwriters are testing the devices and, globally, US has 1,000 staff taking part in a pilot scheme.
Outside of financial services, well known firms to have embraced the technology include lawyer versions and Mercedes, which has distributed iPads to all its US dealerships. Elsewhere, global software firm SAP wants at least 17,000 iPads in use by staff in the next year, Malaysia Airlines is using the device in kiosks at airports to facilitate self-service check-ins and guests staying at the Berkeley Hotel in London are loaned iPads.
Boxtop chief executive Alan Snyder, says: “The iPad could be part of one of the biggest IT expansion waves of the last two decades. Companies are budgeting for large-scale rollouts in 2011, with most viewing the iPad as a high-value delivery platform.”
In the US, there are already what might be regarded as fully fledged software packages for iPads. The application from Finantix Wealth includes a library of product information, a storyboard, fact-finding and illustration tools, a tool to provide a financial overview and portfolio analysis tools.
In the UK, True Potential is leading the field but for the majority of advisers, nothing quite so comprehensive is available yet. For providers looking to recast relationships with their IFS business partners because of the retail distribution review, this represents a big opportunity to gain an advantage in the next few years.
It seems inevitable that tablet compatibility will become as vital for businesses as a website itself. Providers need to consider what tools and information they have available and how they can be optimised for use on devices such as iPads and smartphones, while making sure any new websites are built with compatibility but also usability and design in mind.
The providers that are leading the way are already seeing the results in terms of new business.
Advisers themselves must consider how their own websites interact and the sort of devices their clients are using, whether that is iPads or smartphones such as the iPhone, the Blackberry and Android-based systems. There are a few, very simple adjustments that can ensure clients are able to access the adviser website with any of the devices they are using.
The iPad may be as significant a technology for face-to-face advice as back-office systems were for business administration more than a decade ago. Advisers and providers must not neglect this area and at the very least need to monitor what technology their clients are using and tailor their services and their processes accordingly. Being ipad-enabled for communications sense may just give a brand a leading edge.