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Capita FS’s Adam Byford on the tech potential for advice

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Capita Financial Software managing director Adam Byford does not have a crystal ball but he does not need one to predict a future of greater use of technology in financial services.

One way this will continue to be seen is for clients to become more self-sufficient, with technology helping to provide them with greater access to information.

“Specialist and bespoke services designed for adviser use will be repurposed for consumer use. Customers will have far more access to information themselves and the relationship with the adviser will change. The call upon the adviser will be for their absolute expertise,” says Byford.

In this business model, many clients will take more control of their day-to-day decisions but maintain relationships with their advisers for when they need to take more serious financial decisions.

There are signs the market is already moving this way, says Byford. “A lot of our traffic comes from the direct consumer and a number of advice businesses are developing self-service facilities to sit alongside their adviser businesses.”

Capita Financial Software was formed from three companies. Parent company Capita acquired IFA focused IT services firms Synaptic Research, Webline and Quay Software in 2006 and brought them under the Capita Financial Services brand in January 2008.

The firm provides a range of technology-based products and services for advisers and product providers, covering research, quotes, online applications and back-office systems.

Byford formally joined Capita in 2007, having been head of service strategy at Webline. He became sales director at the newly created firm, then stepped up as its managing director in May 2011.

“My greatest moment is being asked the run the company because it shows the level of trust in my capabilities. But the biggest challenge is managing the workload and trying to keep up with the daily dealings of the company,” he says.

As a child, Byford wanted to be a fighter pilot. His uncle was in the RAF so Byford would spend time with him at the base in Brize Norton, Oxfordshire and at a base in Germany. But after his A-levels and deciding he did not want to go to university, Byford allowed local recruitment agencies to steer him towards the insurance world, which had a big presence in nearby Reading.

He joined Prudential as an executive pensions administrator and worked his way up over the next 16 years to become head of e-business strategy. It was his role as project manager that led to the technology path. “One of the projects was to create a website that became Pru IFA,” he says.

With the fast pace of technology, Byford admits that it is hard to keep track of trends, the latest products or devices. “But we have some clever people at Capita. We take people on who have worked in the advice business, so they get some different angles and see if any problems exist. We also have good partners – long-standing customers – to help out.”

Byford’s vision of the future also sees a greater use of technology by advisers, partly because of the need for greater efficiency since the RDR. He says he understands the regulator’s drive to create a healthier industry but says the RDR has also had unintended consequences for advisers and people who need advice on financial services.

“I see what the intentions were with the RDR but some of the implementation has been questionable in that it created difficulties where there did not need to be any,” he says.

On the way to the RDR, he says the industry lost many direct salespeople and says it is no coincidence that we have seen the ‘protection gap’ grow to £2.4trn. “For all the negatives of direct sales, they did bring the issue of protection to people.”

Last November Capita Financial Software launched a new protection tool, the multi-benefit comparison service, through its Webline portal. At the time Byford said: “Not enough advisers focus on protection and not enough people buy protection products, so we must ensure as an industry that the process of advising on protection is made as simple as possible.”

The multi-benefit tool was designed to do this but Byford recognises online tools cannot close the protection gap on their own. “I do not know if protection has got a stigma within the advice community,” he says. “But when the mortgage market shifted and there were fewer mortgages, advisers had the propensity to sell protection and sales increased.

“If people don’t have access to information, their decisions are sub-optimal,” he says, bringing the conversation back full circle to the role of technology in the advice process.“Creating the ability to do more things using technology should result in better advice but advisers do have lots of information and systems that are just part of a jigsaw. There’s not ever going to be a single system that will do everything.”

In addition to the multi-benefit comparison tool, towards the end of last year, Capita also launched an auto-enrolment tool and risk rating tool. This year the focus is on enhancing its portal capability.

“For protection sales, we will enhance the portal with features that we will be stripping out of Synaptic. We are adding in features as the regulator is not keen on recommending protection products on price alone, they also have to have the right features,” says Byford.

The irony could be that as technology makes information more accessible, the volume of information available via tools and online services could bring about “information overload” that hampers, rather than makes things easier.

Born: Wokingham, Berkshire

Lives: Titchfield, Hampshire

Education: Edgbarrow School & Sixth Form, Crowthorne, Berkshire

Career: January 2007-present: sales director then managing director, Capita Financial Software; 2006-2007: head of service strategy, Webline; 1990-2006: executive pensions administrator to head of e-business strategy, Prudential

Likes: Physical challenges, fast cars, playing and watching football

Dislikes: Mushrooms, negativity, people that walk slowly

Drives: Aston Martin Vantage (at the weekend)

Book: Birdsong by Sebastian Faulkes

Film: Pulp Fiction

Album: The Black Album by Jay Z

Career ambition: To take Capita Financial Software to the success levels that its team has the potential to achieve

Life ambition: To get the balance right between working hard and playing hard

If I wasn’t doing this I would be…Touring the world as a driver in the FIA GT Championship

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