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Choices for clients

One of the most frequent calls that I get from IFAs is to ask for guidance on choosing the right client management system.

It is one of the most important decisions any adviser firm will ever take. Get it right and you can dramatically improve your efficiency and free up valuable extra time to spend with clients. Get it wrong and you may spend many hours repenting over a system which either will not or cannot do what you want it to.

This week, I would like to suggest some procedures that advisers can follow to help with this process. In recent years, there have been some substantial advances in what adviser client management systems can deliver for firms.

In the last few years we have seen some dramatic improvements in the quality and services offered by many of the adviser client management systems.

Generally, these systems are now delivered by a smaller number of more substantial organisations which have the financial resources to commit the significant development budget needed to deliver powerful software.

Insurers have made significant investments to deliver services such as contract enquiry to get online valuations and electronic commission statements that can be automatically reconciled. These are just two examples of services that can save advisers significant amounts of time. Most of the major system providers now enable advisers to take advantage of these facilities via their software but some do it far better than others.

Buying a computer system can be a classic opportunity to examine the way you run your business. To get the greatest benefit it must meet the needs of everyone within the business so identifying a system, or reviewing if your current one is the best option for you, should be seen as an opportunity to improve your business.

A classic mistake that many adviser firms make is that, having decided they want a computer system, they ask some software companies to come and demonstrate to them. Invariably, they then fall into two traps.

Salespeople know the strengths of their system and will focus on these. When did a sales meeting start with, “These are the weaknesses of our product”? Yet, that is what you really want to know.

The second trap is to rely on things “the salesman said”. Verbal assurances are no consolation when a system does not do what you want. When buying technology, get everything in writing. This is the only way you can be sure of having any recourse if something does not deliver what you asked for.

My first rule for planning a system would be to get a clear understanding of what you want from the software, what are your priorities, which things are crucial and what would be nice but not essential. Conduct a fact-find on your business from an operational perspective. Don’t be tempted to buy whatever other people have, is their business exactly the same as yours?

Review each area of the business and establish which are the most time-consuming tasks. Examine your working day and the jobs that each member of staff carries out. Get each person (or a representative sample if it is a big firm) to describe on paper what the tasks are that occupy their day. This may sound simple but it is identifying the key things that any system must do if it is to reduce the burden on your business.

From this I would ask each person or department to produce three lists. First, the 10 things that would be essential for any software system to do. Next list, the 10 items that would be important, but not essential, and finally, 10 things which would be a bonus if they could be achieved.

If anything comes up repeatedly, it is a must for the system. There may be some functions that will be considered essential by one person or department but irrelevant by everyone else.

Discuss what is the importance of that task to the business overall. Do other processes spin off from itor is it something that as a last resort can be left as a manual process?

It is unlikely that any system will deliver everything you want but by understanding your priorities clearly you have a much better chance of achieving a better result.

From the responses, build up a document of requirements, making it clear what your priorities are. This should then be sent to a list of potential suppliers. An extensive list of adviser software providers can be found in the technology directory on the FTRC website at www.ftrc. co.uk/information4advisers/menu.asp.

Ask potential suppliers to confirm in writing which elements of your requirements they will and will not be able to deliver and point out that you will require confirmation to form part of a contract.

Only meet with software providers when you have got down to a short list of two or three firms. Selecting a system provider is an exhaustive subject and space does not allow me to include all the issues in a single article. You will need to decide whether to buy a client server system or a web-based offering. I discussed these issues in an article in Money Marketing on April 28, 2005.

When you think you have identified your chosen supplier, before you sign the contract ask about their local user groups and attend a couple of the meetings. This should give you a far better understanding of the extent to which the software delivers what is claimed.

Before entering a contract, make sure you have identified who within your business will take ownership of its implementation as well as who will manage the system on a day-to-day basis. Make sure they are allocated sufficient time to do so and that they are given extensive training on the system before it is implemented.

You can never underestimate the value of technology training. I have seen far too many IFA software installations fail because the firm thought they would save money by cutting back on the cost of training. This is the worst false economy.

Ideally, every member of staff should have detailed training which will reduce the burden on staff as knowledge centres and help you get a far better return out of your investment.

The above may seem like a longer-winded approach than asking a few software companies to come and demonstrate their wares, but it should also result in finding a system far more suited to your business.

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