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Get with the program

In today’s world of video i-pods and self-service check-in at airports, we have the ability to download or buy nearly anything through a computer.

However, the head-in-the-sand attitude of financial advisers to technology still amazes me. There is no doubt that technology enables us to provide a better service to customers, extend hours of business and increase access to products and services.

I bet that if we look at the basics, the specification of the average adviser’s computer will be way below the optimum level needed to ensure efficient usage. My guess is that many computers are running on outdated operating systems, resulting in programs running slowly. I know advisers and friends who are horribly exposed to all sorts of security flaws by still using Windows 98. This is because Microsoft does not update the older versions of its operating systems.

From a quick online search it is obvious that both desktop and laptop high-specification computers have dropped in price. There is no excuse for advisers holding back from buying a new computer for themselves or their staff, especially as it can be deducted as a business expense and is treated as a depreciating asset for tax purposes.

The recommended minimum specification for a desktop as outlined in the excellent Standard Life Easy Technology Guides available from www.ifazone.com is a 256Mb RAM, 2GHz processor and disk space of 20GB with an XP or 2000 Professional operation system. At the time of writing, the cost of a desktop computer with this specification from www.dell.co.uk is 339 inclusive and this even includes a colour printer.

As the FSA forces advisers to hold data online for the purposes of mandatory electronic reporting and product providers try to encourage online business submission, so the future really is online.

Online business submissions save time and money. Electronic submission reduces the number of errors that would need to be corrected before the case proceeds or cause delays at the new business stage. We all need Origo, which exists to bring together representatives from the Financial Services sector, to agree a uniform strategy for the implementation of electronic commerce to guarantee common standards from provider to provider. Origo is also responsible for delivering the New Business Standard across the industry. Some providers report as much as a 35 per cent reduction in new business applications needing correction. This is wholly attributed to the required accuracy of electronic submission unlike paper applications, which often miss signatures, for example.

There are other cost savings to be made. According to research recently conducted by technology supplier 1st, over 50 per cent of adviser firms spend more than five hours a week trying to reconcile trail or renewal commission. It takes days to reconcile and receive commission statements from providers, chase late payments and simply check the status of payments. Commission reconciliation can go back a long time – months, even years.

A rigorous back-office system should be the backbone of every advisory firm. Many advisers tend to stick with the back office they have had over a period of years. However they need to be aware of the additional tasks now seen as standard from the better of the back offices. These additional tasks can save advisers time in such ares as contract enquiry, so you have access to real-time updates and the value of policies, research capabilities, asset allocation, intelligent workflow, commission accounting and intelligent workflow.

As if the added benefits of upgrading your hard- ware and fully utilising your back-office systems were not incentive enough, you can also keep the regulator at bay.

And all of this for less than the price of a family weekend break.

Do be aware that the new version of Microsoft Windows which is due to be launched in 2006 called Vista may cause problems for some back offices that have not been future-proofed. Do check that yours is OK.

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