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A Window of opportunity

Over the last couple of weeks, I have been looking at issues affecting

both IFAs and the industry in general concerning development of financial

services portals.

This has covered both IFAs&#39 needs to develop their own online presence to

communicate with clients and consumers generally and the industry&#39s

approach to business- to-business portals.

A few weeks ago, AssureSoft announced its IFA Window project to allow

advi-sers to build their own web presence. The service starts this week.

As part of the launch, the company has created a website for all the

13,400 IFA firms in the UK it has identified from public domain

information.

At about the time this week&#39s issue of Money Marketing reaches you, IFAs

should be getting a letter from AssureSoft chief executive David Stewart

saying a web presence has been prepared for them.

Currently, these sites can only be viewed by the IFA firms they have been

prepared for. The letter from AssureSoft details how they can make the

service live so all consumers can access it. They have been pre-populated

with public domain information but it is necessary for advisers to check

the information and further details can be added.

Over the last couple of years, I have looked at the AssureWeb service on a

number of occasions and my main conclusion has been that, while the

organisation has been clearly delivering significant value to DBS members,

it has been questionable how much was really being offered to benefit other

independents.

Having had an advanced preview of IFA Window last week, I believe it has

made the transition to a service which has attractions for the vast

majority of IFA firms.

The basic IFA Window package provides a series of templates which can be

used to create a simple web presence for any IFA firm.

Although it is free, it is still really just a basic poster site but must

be of interest to any IFA firm which is totally bereft of an internet

presence.

IFAs must subscribe to the Professional Plus version, which is much more

compelling. This includes a range of additional content to make sites into

a live online information source rather than just using static data.

The range includes online product literature and glossaries of key terms,

world and City newsfeeds provided by Reuters and AFX, inter-active

financial calculators, tax bulletins and the My World facility.

The latter service allows individual clients to customise their own space

within the advisers website, all content being protected with a secure

individual password.

Facilities include online portfolio management, including share price and

key indices, from all leading European stockmarkets.

In addition, Professional Plus users are also provided with dedicated

glossaries and other content relating to mortgages, pensions, life

insurance and protection, invest- ments, healthcare and gen-eral insurance.

For DBS members, all compliance related to the site is automatically

carried out by the DBS compliance department on an expedited basis. Other

IFAs are provided with a facility email from the entire site to the

organisation responsible for compliance.

A special service has also been agreed for directly authorised firms with

Bond Pearce Solicitors, which will compliance-check sites before they go

live for a fee of £50.

Pricing for the Professional Plus service is based on the number of

registered individuals in the firm. For a single RI practice, the set-up

fee is £150, including the cost of their own UK domain name plus a monthly

charge of £30.

For bigger firms, the fees are: two to six RIs, £200 set-up and £60 a

month; seven to 12, £250 and £120 a month; 13 to 18, £300 set-up and £180 a

month; and 19 to 30, £350 and £250 a month.

All these figures assume the use of the standard templates if an own-brand

identity is required or for firms of over 30 RIs, costs are by negotiation.

All figures are, of course, plus VAT. Slightly lower charges apply to DBS

members.

In the first version, the interactive calculators are restricted to three

mortgage tools. However, version two, expected later in the summer, will

add a further range of calculators. In addition, at this stage, IFAs can

also build in AssureWeb&#39s new comparative premium services to the

facilities they offer clients. All its quotation services are built around

the latest Origo standards.

The company tells me it is intent to develop the service to allow full

transaction capability. This would allow clients to source and compare

products and buy them online.

This service represents a major leap forward in the tools available to

IFAs to create a quality web presence. There is, however, as I see it, one

major weakness. While these tools are highly attractive for servicing

existing clients, attracting new customers over the web is all about

building brand presence.

One of the core elements of the AssureWeb proposition is that it will only

deal with IFAs, not direct with the consumer. While this may be attractive

to IFAs who do not like the idea of information being directly available to

the consumer, in practice, it will severely limit the ability to drive new

customers to IFAs.

While I am certain AssureSoft is sincere in its “IFA-only” message, I

believe before too long it will find it essential to develop some sort of

consumer facing conduit to deliver new clients in need of advice.

Tens of millions are being spent by online financial services companies in

seeking to attract new customers. You can have the best web service in the

world but if people do not know about it you are not going to get more

business.

To my mind, the biggest challenge to AssureSoft is getting a message to

the consumer market about the existence of these IFA sites.

I must also take my hat off to AssureSoft on the timing of this launch,

coming as it does a few days before the launch of the new Misys

business-to-business service.

Just as Misys is launching its offering and trying to att-ract IFA users,

AssureSoft has raised the standard of what it is reasonable for anIFA to

expect of a technology service provider.

The next few months are going to be fascinating as the various parties in

this market battle for market share.

Ian McKenna is a consultant and director of The Financial Technology

Centre. He can be contacted by email at: IanMcKenna@MSN.comTel: 0207-359

5656. Fax: 0207-359 2858

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