The role of intermediary portals has grown steadily in importance over the past decade. However, as the industry faces increasing regulatory pressure to reduce costs and improve service levels, I believe we are on the brink of a major shift in the portal model that will redefine the role they play for the next decade.
Central to this is the requirement for the industry to embrace e-commerce to help overcome regulatory pressures. One of the key challenges the industry faces, as highlighted by Sandler, is to enable end-to-end electronic processing of new business. But new business is only part of the challenge. E-commerce must embrace any area of an intermediary's business process where it can add value and from that perspective electronic valuations of in-force policies are equally important.
Many will argue that the most successful examples of this straight-through processing model have been delivered via extranet services where IFAs deal direct with providers. But Datamonitor figures show that intermediaries would rather deal with providers via portals – 41 per cent – than extranet services – 5 per cent. The reason why portals are the preferred route is because they provide a single access point to multiple services. They remove the need to remember a multitude of passwords and provide a consistent user experience.
If portals are going to deliver this promise of e-commerce and more efficient business processes, there must be co-operation between intermediaries, providers and technology companies. The focus has to be on delivering services that are of practical benefit to intermediaries. Within the last year, we have reached agreements with Bankhall and Synaptic Systems to replace their quotation and transaction services on IFAEngine and IFA Online respectively with our Exweb services. This not only spreads the reach of the most comprehensive quote and transaction services available to intermediaries but also reduces the number of portals providers need to support.
In the past, the industry has been guilty of developing technology services in isolation. These have met specific objectives but have led to many different approaches to processing business. The industry would be better served by an underlying technology infrastructure that is built on agreed industry standards, is open to all providers and intermediaries and delivers consistent approaches to transacting new business and servicing existing customers.
We are leading a marketwide e-commerce initiative that aims to turn this vision into reality. In partnership with providers such as Axa, Friends Provident, Norwich Union, Scottish Equitable and Standard Life, we are working with leading intermediaries to deliver a range of e-commerce services that will enable straight-through processing of transactions and policy valuations. There are currently 12 leading intermediaries involved including Bankhall, Bradford & Bingley, Inter-Alliance, Sifa, SimplyBiz, Tenet and Woolwich Independent Financial Advisory Services.
Services will be based on our Exweb portal technology but, as well as being made available via Exweb Gold, the next generation of the Exweb portal, intermediaries will be able to access them via many of the backoffice systems they currently use.
This infrastructure provides a single technology platform that supports an intermediary's entire business process and links seamlessly with the new business processing and policy admin systems of providers.
A platform such as this also creates the opportunity to deliver the first fully-integrated wrap service. It will remove much of the administrative burden of dealing with multiple product providers and fund management groups, for example, by providing a single commission statement and portfolio valuations at the press of a button, reducing cost and freeing up time for advisers to focus on revenue generation while improving customer service.
Based on this underlying infrastructure, the portal of the future can help companies transform financial services into a consumer-focused, competitive and efficient marketplace.
Sue Summers is managing director of The Exchange