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.
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