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Ian McKenna: How to meet clients’ high expectations of portals

Ian McKennaShould firms opt for the portal offered by their practice management system or go for a third party?

As mobile devices increasingly become the standard way consumers access news and information, providing clients with a rich online experience is vital.

Any firm writing their technology roadmap should be aiming to deliver all the information traditionally contained in regular annual or quarterly client reports as an online service, updated daily, within the next couple of years. Some firms already do this.

As a minimum, an adviser’s online capability should enable a client to review all their investments, retirement savings and protection products, as well as their fact find information and financial goals.

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But should firms opt for the client portal offered by their practice management system or a stand-alone system from a different software supplier?

Easy answer
A practice management system should provide firms with a single central record of the truth. It should drive all other systems within a firm, ensuring that client and regulatory reporting, accounting and all other processes using client or operational data come from a single source. To do anything else introduces the risk of conflicting data.

There are important messages here regarding the likes of platforms, portfolio management tools and others that may trigger actions and trades. It can be argued any system that results in changes to data but does not seamlessly return details of those changes to the practice management system is not fit for purpose. At the very least, a system failing to do this is introducing risk to the advice firm, which will need to manually re-enter data.

Another point to consider if you are thinking of using a third-party client portal is whether it will cause an inconsistency in the dates of information provided.

Using multiple sources can mean presenting data that may have been produced a day or more previously. This might not be a huge factor but it should not be ignored.

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So provided you can get a decent level of functionality from your practice management system’s client portal, using that service is the right answer both in terms of delivering a consistent client experience and reducing regulatory and operational risk. Reusing a platform’s portal should never be a serious option.

Advice firms should be growing their own brand and delivering a service that reflects full client relationships.

Promoting a platform’s online offering direct to the client is just asking to be replaced.

Of course, there are always exceptions to every rule, so if your platform offers an online experience like 7IMagine, yes there is a case for it. But, let’s be honest, no other platform gets close. I can also see an argument for a firm having a portal provided by its portfolio planning software, particularly to facilitate Mifid reporting, but this should only be done if there is a full two-way exchange of data between the two systems so there is no need for manual re-entry.

New kids on the block
This topic became important for users of the Iress Xplan system late last year, when the company launched its new client portal service. This is now available without extra charge to all new Xplan users. Any costs for existing users will depend on their current licensing arrangements. In the long term, those using Xplan as their practice management system should seriously consider adopting it for their client portal.

It should certainly be part of any assessment process. Indeed, if you are using a third-party system, I would periodically review its functionality compared with Iress.

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While the new Xplan client portal does not yet have the depth of functionality offered by those practice management system providers that have consistently led this sector, such as Intelliflo and True Potential, it marks a step in the right direction.

Having been given an indication of what is to come from the Xplan client portal, it should be a far richer service by the summer. This will not be up there with the offerings from those providers identified above but you can’t expect this to happen overnight – or, indeed, in less than a year. If you are using an external client portal, I would not want to be locked into a contract for over a year.

There are several other practice management system providers who do not have any internal offering.

This is an issue those firms should address sooner rather than later, as I see such functionality as a hygiene factor in any selection process.

New clients are increasingly looking at an adviser’s website before even approaching them.

While it is vital for firms to have a powerful client portal, make sure your main website fully explains what this offers so those looking for such a service can see that it will be available.

Ian McKenna is director of the Finance & Technology Research Centre

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