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Technology is having a dramatic impact upon all elements of the financial services industry and is increasingly defining who people are doing business with today.

Major distributors are putting together multi-tie panels in product areas, such as individual protection, with an insistence on having e-commerce capability.

One of the features in this Special Report, by The Exchange managing director David Child, sets out the state of play on intermediary attitudes. A study conducted by the group found that over half of IFAs (55 per cent) believe they will be conducting at least half of their business electronically in five years.

Financial Technology Research Centre director and Money Marketing columnist Ian McKenna says technology is being increasingly used as part of the client process. He says: “A growing number of organisations are taking advantage of contract enquiry standards to deliver information electronically from product providers through to advisers so they have the latest values of their clients’ investments at the click of a mouse.”

McKenna adds that, in the mortgage market, if firms cannot deliver compliance information, which is typically bound up within technology, they will be obstructing business for themselves, which is an issue that Mortgage Brain chief executive Mark Lofthouse tackles later in this Special Report.

Compliance has been the greatest sales aid that technology has ever had. McKenna says, with regulators requiring greater levels of evidence of compliance, the natural way to keep all this together is via technology systems.

But the development has not been without issues. Friends Provident e-commerce manager Steven Young believes one the big obstacles the industry is facing is driving up usage of the services being built today. He says: “The landscape has changed dramatically in terms of what services are available to all product providers and the challenge now is to get intermediaries to recognise the benefits that technologies have to offer and to use them.”

This may come down to a need for better education and training. “How many IFAs have put their staff through technology training in the past 12 months?” asks McKenna.

Just by the very nature of the business, the systems that an adviser needs today are undoubtedly complex and powerful tools and people are going to pick up how to use them intuitively. If someone buys a new technology system but fails to invest in training to learn how to use it, the chances are the technology will fail to achieve economies for a business. But these are problems which can be remedied with more training and education.

McKenna says: “If we are looking at the drive towards holistic planning and the way in which some advisers are operating and using technology many are essentially reinventing their service proposition to the consumer around giving advice.”

Young notes that Friends has seen some positive developments in a number of areas, including the group’s online investment bond proposition now writing more han 60 per cent online since October 2002.

The developments in this field will no doubt continue to roll out on a regular basis but it seems the next stage will start when connectivity starts to become ubiquitous and McKenna believes this is a capability coming together. He says: “We have wi-fi and the next stage is wi-max. The difference is that wi-fi can work over a radius of around 20 metres while wi-max potentially covers 10 kilometres. Next up is the ability to be online anywhere by just having a card in a laptop.”

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