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Ian McKenna: Can Time 4 Advice help drive software innovation?

One of the most frequent complaints I hear from advisers about client management software is that specialist adviser systems lack much of the power and functionality offered by larger-scale customer relationship management solutions such as Microsoft Dynamics.

This month sees the official launch of a system which aims to address this challenge by delivering specialist adviser software built on top of Microsoft’s world-class Dynamics CRM system.

Curo from Time 4 Advice is the brainchild of Roland Rawicz-Szczerbo and Mitchell Philpott, the duo who built the Quay software client management system which they sold to Capita. The other directors include several of the former senior management team at Bluefin, including current Personal Finance Society president Jon Everill.

Although the product was first rolled out to a group of users earlier in the year, having previously been in beta test with a small number of firms since the middle of 2011, it is now in full public release with the launch of version 1.1 of the software. Crucially, this brings with it key integrations for electronic commission processing via Time 4 Advice’s Symmetry messaging hub which will be closely followed by online valuation services in June.

Further integrations will be put in place with a range of third-party tools before the end of the year, including the Paraplanner online and ATEB suitability report tools, SamMedia’s Money Info service, as well as financial planning and cashflow tools from Voyant, Plan Lab, Money Scope, FE Analytics, Morning-star adviser tools and Defaqto research are all due to be added, so advisers can pick and choose their own preferred third-party resources.

By choosing to build on leading-edge Microsoft tools, Dynamics, SharePoint and Office, Time 4 Advice is leveraging billions of dollars of development that have been spent on these products. The Dynamics’ family alone has a $2bn development budget. Equally, because the MS Office suite is so familiar to just about everyone who has ever used a PC, even novice users should find it easy. If you can use Microsoft Outlook, you will have a pretty good idea how to use Curo, which appears in Outlook as just another inbox with as another email account or can be selected from the Curo button.

Within Curo, there are seven key areas – workplace, client management, administration, marketing, compliance, settings and resource centre. Workplace is where the user spends most of their time and is where most work is done. Within the resource centre, Time 4 Advice is creating a knowledge base which includes some 200 articles on how to do things within the system and a further 10 videos so users can see how tasks are accomplished to help make learning to use the system easier. It has also created a community area as an environment where users can offer feedback on the software, what they like about it and what they don’t and make suggestions for further improvements.

Users can also vote on proposed enhancements and there are forums so users can share best practice. Support can also be delivered via this community area.

The system includes a time- charging component which works on the basis of units of time rather than a switch-on, switch-off timer.

This can apply day rates and fixed prices per job, allowing users to set up as many different charging propositions as they like and increasing the ability of a firm to roll out consistent charging.

An excellent example of how easy it is to manage an advice business using Curo can be seen from the support provided to help advisers design and deliver their various customer propositions. Firms can use the service to build their own client proposition, including summarising their “service promise”.

In addition, the program helps them agree the various components of their services to clients. Using a series of dro- down menus, all of which are configurable, they can agree their service proposition, for example, high level, high touch, one-off advice or low level; the service style, for example, face to face, seminar, telephone or internet; the review frequency; valuation scheduling, that is, how frequently consolidated valuations are produced; advice offering, that is, whole of market, restricted or execution only, also the service communication proposition – how will the firm communicate and how frequently; the basis of charges, retainer if applicable, etc.

From version 1.1, the system will be supplied with a range of configured content, including KPI reports, client account reports, policy schedules, commission and fee reconciliation report etc. Firms can either use these as supplied built or choose to have these entirely configured to their own specific requirements.

Having defined a proposition, the system allows advisers to group participants in a particular proposition and identify groups of clients who need particular activities to take place to deliver on an agreed offering. These activities can then be scheduled from within the system.

After defining the services to be offered and having recognised all the clients that have subscribed to each proposition, the workflow element of the system then generates the procedures and activities necessary so an adviser can be sure they are delivering on the agreed customer proposition, something that will be a crucial requirement.

In recent months, I have seen an increasing number of fresh, innovative adviser software packages that represent a further leap forward in what is available to advisers. Time 4 Advice certainly fits into this category and should be seriously considered by anyone looking for technology to support the evolution of their business.

FTRC has created a LinkedIn group for anyone interested in following developments in the specialist adviser software market. The group, advisersoftware.com, can be found through Ian Mckenna’s LinkedIn profile or through this link

Ian McKenna is director of the Finance & Technology Research Centre

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Comments

There are 9 comments at the moment, we would love to hear your opinion too.

  1. Are you a share holder Ian? This seems to bias the debate that surrounds the use of CRM systems. Having looked at this particular system it seems good on back-office but lean on one of the most crucial areas (which is in the name) Relationship management. The fact that this system follows the microsoft route means that the ‘R’ is light touch. There is a need for such systems to truly develop a measurement of the breadth and depth of client relationships (B2B/B2C).

  2. Anonymous, it is a shame you feel the need to hide behind anonymity as your comments might carry more credence if you identified who you are. I am sure if you asked Money Marketing they would amend your posting to show your real name.

    Your comments read like you might actually be a shareholder in another software provider. I also wonder if you read my entire article, as I clearly point out that other elements of the proposition are being added later in the year.

    Just for the sake of clarity no I am not a shareholder, I do however spend my life talking to advisers about what software does or does not deliver for them. Time 4 Advice have taken the approach of looking to provide a dedicated financial advice layer to go on top of a world class CRM system and then integrate with a range of other specialist software suppliers. This is certainly stimulating a lot of interest amongst adviser and it is fair to say there are many who are far from happy with what the current market suppliers presently offers.

    There are a plethora of systems in the market with different strengths and weaknesses. The chances of finding a system which exactly matches and adviser’s perfect vision of how everything should be are minimal. It is crucial to spend time developing a detailed understanding of what the priorities are for your business and to examine in detail which systems are best in certain areas.

    For some insight into which of the different systems offer what, you may find it helpful to review this document http://www.moneymarketing.co.uk/Journals/3/Files/2012/2/10/E-Comm%2026.01.12.pdf although the data show is based on what systems offered at the beginning of this year.

    To be fair to system suppliers, what adviser businesses see as the ideal solution can vary substantially both from firm to firm and in the detail of how organisations wish to run certain processes.

    Time 4 Advice has taken an innovative approach to delivering software to advisers and I believe deserves credit for doing so. With any new software product you have to start somewhere so not everything can be delivered day one, or even year one. Their success, as with any other software provider, will depend on how quickly they deliver a system that meets sufficient of the needs of users.

  3. Eric Armstrong 21st May 2012 at 11:09 am

    Er Mr McKenna, what about cost? Assuming T4A would like to make some money, when adding in the per license cost of Dynamics, plus the cost of the third party software providers you mention, then surely you have prohibitively expensive package?

  4. Roland Rawicz-Szczerbo 21st May 2012 at 11:31 am

    Hi Anonymous,

    You have clearly not seen Curo. Relationship management it does like no other. You will be impressed, so why not get in touch and I will walk you through it.

    I am a shareholder and I love it!!

    Kind regards,

    Roland

  5. Having been using Curo now for several months I can honestly say that this system is light years ahead of any other IFA CRM system on the market.

    The system being built on Microsoft Dynamics provides so much potential to save time and costs for IFAs, it is excellent. Just a small example is the link into Microsoft Outlook that means that every single customer activity/customer contact, both historical and pending automatically appears in Microsoft Outlook as a task and seamlessly links into my iPhone. This means that wherever I am I have instant access to any tasks that need to be completed for my clients.

    The power and potential of this system is truly amazing and there are numerous features that will save time and make the advice process for IFAs that much easier, but probably more importantly, it is actually built with financial planning in mind. Most of the software systems on the market are actually built around a ‘product sale – sales process’ and don’t easily lend themselves to true financial planning and the provision of financial advice. This is where Curo wins hands down.

    My other comment is on the support that Time4advice provide. Over the course of four years with our previous CRM provider we gave countless feedback about either items that didn’t work, or that needed improving and never received a single response. In the last few months, the support from Time4advice has been excellent, with our suggestions for improvements taken on board immediately and put into the very next release!

    The one thing that concerned us most about switching CRM providers was the integrity of the data transfer process. Here Time4advice truly surpassed any experience we have previously had and nothing has been too much trouble and every item of data that we would wish to be transferred has been transferred. (not just the usual names and truncated addresses, but diary notes, product details and product notes, funds, units prices et al)

    The connectivity Curo is developing with all the other IFA tools we use and the platform and provider links will also be way ahead of any other system on the market

    I would recommend anyone IFA who does not truly believe that their CRM system is enhancing their business (I believe most are actually a constraint on the advice process!) speak to Time4advice and invest 30 minutes in a demonstration – you won’t be disappointed.

    As a user of this system the client relationship is at the heart of Curo so I find the anonymous comment above very strange indeed

    Paul Smith.
    Chartered Financial Planner.
    Provident Solutions Ltd

  6. p.s. to my previous post –

    Our monthly cost is significantly less than our previous CRM system was!

    Paul Smith

  7. Roland Rawicz-Szczerbo 21st May 2012 at 11:55 am

    Hi Anonymous,

    I am not sure whether Ian has our price tariff? Why not contact me directly. I am more than happy to show you the incredible functionality of Curo in detail as well as prepare a tender for you.

    I think you will agree that Curo represents excellent value when compared to the market. However, the real joy comes from use. It is the only system that is deployed as part of MS Outlook, which resolves at a stroke some of the most wasteful of all business practices in addition to allowing access to clients in ways not previously available. It is the first true CRM / back office system available for financial advice businesses.

    I look forward to hearing from you.

    Kind regards,

    Roland

  8. This article is unique, original and engaging. You’ve captured my attention your use of persuasive terminology and logical points. Thank you for this useful information. I will be back to read more of your articles.

  9. Have been doing a bit of research on back office systems and have been really impressed by the things that Curo can do but don’t think the pricing is for one man bands with no legacy business like myself

    For anyone, like me, who was struggling to get a price, I was quoted:

    £500+VAT implementation
    £1500 + VAT Training Costs (Compulsory)
    £85+VAT per month for a basic user licence.

    Can get add-ons like a price feed which adds to the monthly cost.

    Definitely looks good for bigger firms though.

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