At its best, a good platform can be the foundation of a strong advisory business. It can support an adviser’s risk management and investment process, ease administration and free up time to spend with clients. At its worst, it can be time-consuming and complex – ensuring less client-facing work is done rather than more and giving rise to that familiar urge to hurl the computer out of the nearest window.
As our roundtable this month demonstrates, advisers need a structured approach when choosing an appropriate plat-form. The FSA has made its feelings on this quite clear – the platform must be suitable for all clients. Of course, as Dawn Mealing of Bluefin points out in the roundtable, there is little chance of it being suitable for the client if it is not suitable for the adviser but advisers need to make sure they are taking client needs into account.
The issue of “appropriate” is muddied by the historic association of platforms with product providers, particularly life companies. Many advisers and platforms have looked to the US and Australian models in designing or selecting a platform but these markets do not have the same legacy issues. The “platform as product” versus “platform as bit of IT kit” is a problem all players are likely to wrestle with for some time.
But what the roundtable also makes clear is that choosing the right platform is only one small step. Advisers are more often derailed by the implementation process. First, there is the issue of resources – who is going to put client data on a platform? Should the work be outsourced? Then there is compatibility – does the platform talk to the back-office system? Or the cashflow management system? There is also the issue of training – the best system in the world is as useful as a hammer made of jelly if no one knows how to use it properly.
This month’s issue of Adviser Evolution shows that it can be done and the rewards are there for a methodical approach. Our diary columnist – Georgina Partridge of Plutus – has started opening up its platform to clients for the first time this month and has met with an excellent response. In fact, all the participants in the roundtable say their clients have been more engaged than expected with the process and have enjoyed the new visibility into their financial affairs. If nothing else, platforms offer a way to engage clients in their own finances and for the skilled adviser, this can only be an advantage.