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Access the revolution

A few weeks ago in Money Mark eting, I went to great lengths to explain that, by having a website that allows your clients to compare and purchase products online, that securely broadcasts summary financial information to your clients and that is publicly promoted, you can add immense value to your business and enhance the service you give to your clients.

What I did not mention was how difficult your clients would find accessing the web to use your perfect site.

The internet, if I know what I am looking for, saves me literally hours each week. But the act of accessing the internet and then trying to find the right site and keeping connected long enough to do what I want on the net can become frustrating.

I am not alone. Most adviser clients and many more like them who want financial services online are in the same boat.

The World Wide Wait

Logging on, waiting for the dial-up tone, sitting through the screech and scrawl of “connecting to the internet” only to find that the line is busy is a tiresome business.

Once online, a quick flick through a search engine such as Yahoo for “IFA” and the first 20 matches will include anything from the International Federation of Aromatherapists to the Islamic Foundation of America – and the odd independent financial adviser. The point is, searching is not made easy.

When your client finally finds the site they want, hopefully yours, they settle themselves down to fill in the online fact-find profile or to complete an application for some critical-illness plan. They manage to get half way through the screens and their connection goes down and with it all the information they painstakingly completed.

But do not all rush to close down your website. The next phase in web development is here and it is big.

Unmetered access

On the November 13, telecoms watchdog Oftel announced it had ordered British Telecom to provide rival operators with new wholesale flat-rate internet access from February 2001. This will allow operators to offer true unmetered access at affordable prices and to provide a far better service than they can currently reasonably offer. Oftel also announced measures that would ensure BT can handle the expected increased traffic.

While unmetered access has been around for a few months, it has not been a great success. Alta Vista, the first to offer unmetered access, was unable to deliver due to the extra costs that BT charged, disappointing the 270,000 pre-registered customers.

Freeserve said the BT deal would bring in as many as 400,000 new signings. It already has 250,000 users of its unmetered access but cannot sign up more customers because BT is unable to cope with the traffic.

The Daily Mail recently said the directive would give “24-hour internet for £10 a month” and that “the changes could put the internet in every home, school and business”. They are not kidding.

Unmetered local calls will encourage your clients to use the internet at a time most convenient to them. Currently, they use the net when it is at its cheapest, which means the web slows down at peak times. Have you tried using the net during the sometimes painfully slow weekends? With unmetered calls, usage will vary and will alleviate net congestion.

Unmetered access, meaning low-cost and potentially quicker connection, is in demand and the impact this will have on advisers&#39 clients and access to and IFA net site will be huge.

Broadband access

Most IFA customers will be using analogue modems, the fastest available at 56Kbps, but it still takes at least 10 seconds to download an average page on the web. If the page includes graphics, it will take a lot longer.

ISDN, which has been around for a few years, has seen little household interest despite connection speeds of up to 128Kbps.

Now we have asymmetric digital subscriber line (ADSL), which is a great way to connect to the internet and offers connection speeds 37 times faster than on a normal dial-up account. ADSL is a permanent connection known as “always on” and it provides unmet ered and unlimited access to the internet.

It uses your existing phone line to send and receive the data so there is no need to dig up any roads to install it.

This means no more dial-up, no more waiting and no more lost connection. Suddenly, accessing the web becomes pain-free. The cost? BTOpenWorld currently has the cheapest offering at £39.99 including VAT for the homeuser plus a reasonably priced standard installation fee.

Access to the internet will not require a computer taking up room in the home. Televisions, third-generation mobile phones and hand-held computers (PDAs) will all offer “always on” connection.

Search engines

There has been no real improvement in search engines and exp ecting to be found on a general search engine will only lead to disappointment. It is not all bad, though. Most financial sites carry a directory listing of IFAs.

Advisers should make sure they are registered with these sites. Some offer free listing and free promotion while others will charge a registration or membership fee.

Adviser should also remind existing clients of their website address. Carry the address (or URL as it is known) on all of your communication, letterheads, business cards, advertising and brochures.

There really is no better time to offer clients access to services via the web. If an adviser&#39s website offers more than just an online brochure, why not encourage cli ents to use the net more.

Let clients know about the new technologies available that will make their life easier. It will add a new dimension to an adviser&#39s marketing and will make them a valuable source of information.

How do advisers find out about the latest in broadband technology and unmetered access? Via the web, of course. For more information on new technologies available for advisers to use in their own business and to see what they can offer your clients, go to www.mymoney adviser.co.uk/ifa.

For information on unmetered telecommunications, go to www.unmetered.org.uk which offers valuable features and operator comparisons as well as keeping advisers up to date on the latest Oftel developments. .

For information on broadband and ADSL, go to www.broadband-help.org.uk and www. adslguide.org.uk.

The technological developments and the moves to make access to the web cheaper and quicker really do make the internet open 24 hours seven days a week.

The way business will be conducted and in particular the way financial products will be researched and bought is changing. Advisers have the opportunity to help clients right at the start of the real internet revolution before someone else does.

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