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Ian McKenna looks at new IFA technology innovations

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Implementing technology was always going to be a key part of how advisers adapt to the challenges of the RDR. Increasingly, innovative technologies are coming to market to help advisers address new challenges. For example, only a couple of months ago no-one had shown me any technology-based solutions to help advisers build and benchmark their consumer propositions and how they are delivering them.

I have recently seen a number. I have been particularly impressed by the Passport software developed by Robert Reid and Roderic Rennison and will be writing more detailed commentary on this in the New Year.

Two weeks ago, I looked at new features Durell Software is delivering to help their users embrace mobile environments and I understand Avelo is experiencing considerable success with the customer portal module it delivered recently.

There are also a number of other new solutions. Some, such as the new Time 4 Advice proposition, are targeting the broad adviser market, others, such as Best Practice, are focusing on bigger firms.

With an increasing number of specialist solutions emerging, many firms want to be looking at assembling best-of-breed components. This also has the benefit of reducing reliance upon a single system supplier.More people are asking if all-embracing solutions are the right answer for many firms.

At the heart of this is the question: are such overall solutions a master system delivering a truly integrated solution, or are they really just a Jack-of-all-trades option that fail to deliver a quality end-to-end proposition, relying perhaps on one or two features, frequently commission processing? I can think of some of the major products that fall into each camp.

If the right way forward is for advisers to work with a collection of best-of-breed solutions it does, however, become crucial that these different solutions are able to talk to each other. Detailed integration between such solutions remains a challenge. Until this is achieved it will be difficult for such an approach to provide the level of economies of scale that are crucial for advisers to achieve.

The industry needs to address this issue urgently, not least because of the rapidly accelerating adoption of financial apps by both advisers and consumers. There is evidence that the ease of use and accessibility of apps is already having a significant effect on adviser behaviour.

This brings the challenge of dealing with multiple mobile operating platforms. I am aware that some people believe HTML5 will provide a single alternative to this issue, however, our own, admittedly at this point less-than-exhaustive, research suggests consumers will, in the long term, prefer mobile solutions delivered natively using their platform of choice.

The decision of Sesame Bankhall to adopt an established Australian solution to meet its RDR needs is hardly a ringing endorsement of many of the bigger UK suppliers.

I am not surprised by the move. For some time I have felt there are not enough quality, scalable home-grown systems to meet the needs of the number of major customers who need such capacity for 2013.

I can see other major companies looking further afield for suppliers if some of the small group of UK suppliers who would pass institutional due diligence cannot be seen to be delivering the content needed for the RDR with little more than a year to go. Against this background, Standard Life’s purchase of Focus Solutions looks shrewd and good value for money.

Some software suppliers make a great deal of noise about how easy it is to move data from other suppliers to their system. A more important question is how easily can you get your information out if you want to leave.

I am hearing too many stories about advisers who are trying to change supplier only to be told they either cannot have all their data or that there will be a significant cost in extracting it. This should not be acceptable and is a damning indictment of any system that cannot provide a complete data summary of all system data on demand.

I believe this should be available free of charge to any user at any time.

Equally, it should then be the responsibility any new system supplier to take this data and populate it to any replacement system.

This is not just an issue for client management systems but should equally apply in the platforms market. Overall this subject has been left unaddressed for too long. From a regulatory perspective, how would the FSA look at any firm that could not extract all the data from any system that is used as a primary method of client record-keeping?

The ability to extract all client data from any system should be a really important consideration in any software supplier or platform selection exercise. It might make sense to seek out references from organisations that used to use a supplier and find out how helpful the company was when they left.

Choosing the right software, either individually packaged or a collection of tools, will be one of the most crucial decisions any adviser takes in the run-up to the RDR.

It is really good to see new solutions coming to market to help these needs although for those who are not finding their supplier delivering, it might be pertinent to be looking elsewhere sooner rather than later to be able to have the right solution in place to trade most efficiently by 2013.

Ian McKenna is director of the Finance & Technology Research Centre

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Readers' comments (5)

  • Distribution Technology introdcued proposition management into its Dynamic Planner front office and planning tools application on 17 November. The new functionlaity allows advisers to create different service level options, aligned them to related activities and most importantly, use them to track individual cleint activities and manage their businesses.

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  • Hi Ian

    Great article. Curo, Time4Advice's new Client Management / Back Office replacement is built on Microsoft's World Class Dynamics CRM 2011 platform. It has been stress tested to over 150,000 users on one incidence of the software. If our clients want scale, then Time4Advice can rise to the occasion.

    It is offered Software as a Service, hosted by Rackspace (the World's largest cloud service provider), integrates fully with MS Office and is delivered through MS Outlook, which means that all emails, tasks and appointments are automatically linked to the client record. Service propositions are supported with fully integrated campaign management for seamless client communications and the system manages consumer agreed remuneration with ease. Full client account reconciliation is sensitive to both fees and commissions via configurable income profiles

    Client records can be exported to MS Excel at the click of a button and we are offering contracts with one month's notice, which means that our clients are never held hostage by long term contracts and inaccessible data.

    With an annual investment of $2 billion dollars compliments of Microsoft, this is the last back CRM / back office system our clients will ever need to buy.

    Come and visit us at Time4Advice.

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  • Interesting article! One point I would make is that Best Practice is not just for large firms I joined Best Practice as a one man band with what I would say was a good business six years ago and they still look after small quality forms today.

    In my opinion they are a hidden gem and their technology and integration is outstanding. It seems to me that all the other providers are trying to recreate what we have at Best Practice.

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  • Ian - Spot On

    Please please keep banging this drum!

    It is still impossible to find a competent back office CRM where you can seamlessly transfer to a good Financial Planning system

    To not be able to access your own data the moment you stop paying rental on a system is disgraceful and this aspect more than anything else need resolving immediately

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  • Huge subject and a great article and absolutely right about extracting data from your system - should be automatic and at no charge. Some of what I call the general CRM systems for example Salesforce.com and Zohocrm do, so why should Financial Services CRM not do the same. It does seem a great idea to work with best of breeds as Time4Advice is doing with their Curo, which gives the client a great CRM and works well with other tools to give the IFA the full solution.

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