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Ian McKenna: Hard facts on adviser software

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Suggestions by Asia-based investment group CLSA that Iress is looking to focus on companies with more than 30 advisers may raise concerns with many users of its Adviser Office.

This week, I want to give a very high-level overview of the key players in the UK adviser software market and the type of firms each are most suited to supporting. If an adviser is going to migrate from Adviser Office to Iress Xplan or, for that matter, any other system, it makes sense to consider the alternatives first. In future columns I plan to examine individual offerings in more detail as well as look at best practice when comparing them.

In addition to Iress, the two other largest players in the adviser software market are, by our assessment, Intelliflo with Intelligent Office and True Potential. Both have been doing a lot of highly innovative work around the customer-facing experience they deliver. If that is important to an adviser, both should definitely be on any shortlist.

For a broad-based adviser system you have to go a long way to beat Intelliflo. Conversely, while True Potential operates a different charging model, including significant value added services within the price, it is a very intuitive proposition with a customer experience probably without equal.

It is also important to highlight the significant advances Distribution Technology has made with its Dynamic Planner system. The company has put together a very effective client review process, including the option to work with mobile apps. When my team conducted an analysis of this a few months ago, we found it could deliver a 700 per cent increase in productivity in certain areas of an adviser business.

For regional firms, particularly chartered practices, it is well worth looking at what is on offer from Creative Technology.

Great reputation

It has built a great reputation for delivering to this market with a range of products, including its in-house Fusion platform that enables regional firms to have an IT infrastructure more aligned to a national business. This includes customer relationship management, a trading platform, asset management and research, and life modeling, all within a single integrated system.

SSP Worldwide, meanwhile, has a long-standing reputation for being able to build scalable solutions for large adviser businesses. Historically, I was always surprised how regularly it was beating 1st Software, the original company behind Adviser Office, when it came to really big accounts. Recently it has been doing a lot of work to overhaul its platform and it really should be on a shortlist for any large system reviews.

Another organisation worth mentioning in this context is Plum Software, which has a long-standing track record of providing systems to smaller advice firms. The company was acquired by Praemium earlier this year in a move that should be good for users of the system as it significantly grows the size of Plum’s development team. It also enables Praemium to leverage the integrations with platforms and life offices Plum has established. In addition, the company also owns WealthCraft, a dedicated CRM system built around Microsoft Dynamics, which it is targeting at slightly larger organisations than the typical Plum customer. To be fair, this latter development is a work in progress but it is good to see Plum get some scale and deeper resources behind it.

If I mention Microsoft Dynamics, I should also mention Time4Advice, which has also built an adviser CRM system based around the Dynamics platform. While it has been rather low profile of late I have heard some very positive feedback from St James’s Place around its implementation of the system.

Personally, while it is clearly facing some challenges, I am not ready to write off the Iress Xplan option yet. There are elements of the system I have seen and been impressed by, although I am hearing certain reservations. I will seek to form a more detailed view and report back in the next month or so.

In the meantime, hopefully the above will be useful for firms who want to understand which alternatives might be worth considering.

Ian McKenna is director of the Finance & Technology Research Centre

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Comments

There are 13 comments at the moment, we would love to hear your opinion too.

  1. I’m surprised that JCS isn’t mentioned in this report. I used the totally misnamed Intelligent Office at Honisters and it was rubbish in comparison.

  2. As a long time user of Iress my view is that it is now very dated and realistically has no more than a couple of years of shelf life left.

  3. The biggest issue when contemplating switching to a new CRM/Back Office System is how transferable is the data held on the soon to be defunct system or do you end up running a single user license for the old system whilst starting with the new. Some years back attempted to migrate away from AO with all sorts of promises however same old story, “long on promises, short on delivery” so stuck with AO. Starting fresh is an easy situation if there are no legacy issues BUT if there is then how can this be overcome. Perhaps this might be an area for discussion Ian?

  4. Kevin, data migration is certainly an issue to consider moving between any two systems. I suppose a key question to ask of Iress is how long do they intend to continue to support Adviser Office. My understanding is that they have recently moved from a situation where they had said they were looking to phase it out over the next few years to more of an ongoing commitment but with any software product there has to be some point where it is retired.

    David, if I had space to include a couple more software supplier JSC would probably be on the list. One area I have always heard good reports about them is data migration. I also hear good reports about Prestwood but despite countless requests they have never been prepared to let us do a really detailed analysis of the system.

    Our team are planning to carry out detailed analysis of each of leading suppliers over the next couple of months so we can publish something to give advisers some general guidance when considering if they should switch systems. I would really appreciate readers sharing any issues users they are having with any software suppliers so we can raise these in the discussions.

  5. Robert Whicher 24th July 2015 at 3:28 pm

    The fact that you do not even mention Quay Software’s CCD system confirms my own thoughts that their system is on its way out, well gone already.

  6. We’ve moved from Adviser Office to Intelliflo to Time4Advice, as always it’s hard work getting to grips with a new system, but the guys at Time4Advice have worked very closely with us to customise their CURO system to compliment our way of working, and a level of support which we have never experienced before.

  7. Ian: Do you charge for doing a detailed analysis of IFA software systems?

  8. Simon the answer is it depends on the level of detail we are bring asked to look at any system. We have built a software comparison tool which advisers can use free of charge at http://www.advisersoftware.com, regrettably not all software providers have chosen to provide the data to be included in that service. Let me be clear we do not charge software suppliers for being included, it is just something we have built to try and help small firms. If some one is asking us to do very specific work for them of course we have to charge.

    Our approach in many areas e.g. protection and auto enrolment product research, not just software, is that we try and create as much as we can for free to help smaller advice firms but if we are working for larger organisations there will be costs involved.

  9. Perhaps one of the key questions we should all be asking focuses around the long term viability of any CRM system. With a reducing number of adviser firms paying subscriptions we will either see further consolidation amongst providers, increased fees or both. Adviser numbers must now be getting to a level where many cannot make it viable to continue unless subcription fees increase.

  10. George Williamson 26th July 2015 at 11:49 pm

    What about the 12,000plus Mortgage Brokers our there – we in our firm use The KEY (Mortgage Brain) CRM and it is brilliant, we could not run out paperless (last 8 years) business without it. Please do NOT ignore us Mortgage Brokers in your analysis/column, we also do a valuable job.

  11. Comments noted George, whilst this weeks column was really focused on the alternative options for Investment Advisers I can also look at the options for Mortgage Brokers too. I understand Iress have announced a new product for the mortgage market but as a replacement for Trigold but I had any sight of this yet. I will look to arrange access so I can explore it and the other solutions for mortgage advisers in future columns. In the meantime you might want to look at the piece a wrote about 360Lifecycle a few months ago. Our team is very impressed with this new offering. https://www.moneymarketing.co.uk/ian-mckenna-shaking-up-the-mortgage-advice-market/?nocache=true&adfesuccess=1

  12. My research which was completed a few months back came to the same sort of conclusions that Ian summarises in his article with one extra. If getting at legacy plan data from your own database is not an issue (which it may not be as it’s nearly all out there on Extranets anyway), it might be better to buy a customisable CRM system with some support from a supplier with FS industry experience. As Curo (Time4Advice) and others have shown, starting with a pure CRM system allows better customisation for the individual business and it also may to be cheaper to license as some CRM suppliers have very large global user bases. I have considered Maximiser CRM, which has a large presence in the Canadian financial adviser market.

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