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Ian McKenna: Christmas will be a turning point in the provision of advice

Ian McKenna

This year has been one of tremendous change. For most people in the investment market 2012 has meant getting to grips with the RDR and recognising that there was going to be no U-turn by the FSA, while in corporate pensions auto-enrolment finally began.

In protection it has meant accepting the absurdity of the EU gender directive and working out how to live with it, while the mortgage community has also had to contend with everything the regulator has delivered via the MMR.

Has the financial services industry ever experienced so many changes at once?

It is easy to believe that these are the most significant changes going on in our lives and yet I would argue that they are insignificant in the context of broader changes that have been taking place in society.

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As people have time to reflect in the run-up to Christmas, I would like to share examples of technologies that exist today and which I predict will change the lives of everyone in our industry more than all of the above.

In due course I believe it will be recognised that Christmas 2012 was when mobile computing in all its guises began to truly dominate the way in which people live their lives.

Venture capital guru Mary Meeker recently presented her vision of an emerging digital world. What follows is an adaptation of many of the scenarios she identified, with a consideration of how they might affect adviser businesses.

Although we may not all recognise it, the UK is at the forefront of this digital revolution. We already have the highest smartphone adoption of any country in Europe, but it is tablet devices that are really transforming the way people live.

The computer is being re-imagined, with desktops and notebooks increasingly being replaced by smartphones and tablets.

But it is not just the hardware this affects. Tablet computing has in fact been around for over a decade.

Before I recently switched to a MacBook Air I owned a procession of Windows tablet laptops, but it took the emergence of the iPhone and subsequently the iPad – with their truly intuitive interface – to get consumers to embrace touch as a way of using a machine.

Ironically my Mac is not a touchscreen device, but it does work beautifully with voice recognition. While we still have keyboards in my office, everyone is discouraged from using them.

A couple of months ago all the F&TRC team were equipped with NaturallySpeaking voice-recognition software from Nuance.

I will be looking at this technology in more detail in the New Year but for now suffice to say it has had a dramatic and positive impact on productivity. We can all speak far more quickly than even someone with outstanding keyboard skills can type.

Although I would strongly advocate advisers adopting NaturallySpeaking in their offices, if you own an iPad or iPhone you do not need to wait to discover how easy it is to use voice recognition. Provided you have a good WiFi signal the embedded voice recognition in both these devices is outstanding. It intrigues me that so many people own one of these devices yet so few use the voice-recognition features.

After voice recognition the next new transformation technology will be gestures. Imagine controlling your computer in the same way that you play a game on Xbox Kinect. Why would you need a keyboard when the space in front of your screen becomes an area you can manipulate?

Manufacture of smartphones and tablet devices overtook laptops and desktop PCs for the first time last year and in 2012 twice as many mobile devices will be made.

The latest projections are that the number of smartphones and tablets globally will exceed the total number of desktop and notebook PCs by the second quarter of next year.

Information now travels round the world in seconds and traditional forms of news media increasingly monitor social media sites to identify breaking stories. For example, the assassination of Osama bin Laden and the death of singer Whitney Houston are both acknowledged as events first communicated via Twitter.

There are now four times as many mobile device subscriptions globally as there are telephone landlines. Everything is being re-imagined in a digital world where information can be accessed anywhere, and virtually no business is immune.

Taking advantage

Last week Google announced its new mortgage service. This represents a practical example of how information which historically could only be sourced through a professional has become ubiquitous.

It would be easy for advisers to view Google’s new product as competition, and in a way it is, but it also defines a useful new minimum level of advice above which an adviser must go in order to add value for their clients.

I believe it is crucial for advisers to find out exactly what Google, Moneysupermarket and a host of other online services are offering. They can then demonstrate in their conversation with customers how an adviser adds extra layers of interpretation, analysis and service that will always provide a superior experience to that of the online “DIY” product.

It is inevitable that the investment market will be similarly affected. Over the past couple of weeks there has been an intense debate among the LinkedIn group about what adviser direct-to-consumer propositions will look like, as new technology becomes as prevalent in investment advice as it is in the rest of people’s lives.

The successful financial planning and mortgage broking businesses of the next five years will be those that identify where gaps exist above the DIY digital proposition, which they can fill and use to add demonstrable value.

This will be a moving target and it will be crucial for advisers to understand and keep pace with developments in digital solutions.

If someone gives you a tablet device this Christmas, time spent understanding how digital personal finance is emerging will be a valuable investment in your future.

Ian McKenna is director of the Finance & Technology Research Centre


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