Despite nearing the end of the second decade of the 21st century, too many providers’ communications practices are still more suited to 1820 than 2020.
I recently became involved in an online discussion with an adviser trying to operate a paperless business who was frustrated at a life company insisting on sending him a 73-page paper document, which then had to be scanned to the client record.
I will not go into who the provider is. As the adviser put it, “they are all a bad as each other”.
Life companies and platforms frequently bemoan the lack of technology adoption at adviser firms when they are far worse offenders themselves. These organisations need to start practicing what they preach.
Insisting on using paper when things can be digitised is, among other things, treating advisers unfairly. It creates additional costs for them and reduces their ability to become more efficient. This, in turn, increases the cost of advice. It is also being unfair to our planet.
Similar examples highlighted to me recently by advisers include an asset manager that sent an eight-page statement to tell an adviser they have a client with £7,000 invested with them, another that produced four pages for a £71.36 adviser payment, and yet another that sent 11 pages of transaction history for a £6,900 investment.
Then there was the life office sending 32 pages of plan information for a £6,000 pension and, in another case, seven pages for a £22,122 contract. I could go on, but it would just get boring. Needless to say, the closed book administrators are even worse.
New agency agreements and letters of authority are another area where advisers are bemoaning providers’ behaviour.
In the case of new agencies, why can’t organisations set up working practices so new firms can start as they mean to go on? Equally, with letters of authority, providers will happily accept faxes but not the digital equivalent. At least one organisation I am aware of has actually implemented technology to convert documents with digital signatures to faxes so they will be accepted. A ludicrous state of affairs.
When challenged, most providers will cite compliance and legal requirements as the reason for their byzantine behaviour, but such arguments simply do not stand up to scrutiny. The FCA Smarter Communications work comprising DP15/5, FS16/10 and PS16/23 transformed the art of the possible from a regulatory perspective.
There can be real benefits where wet signatures can be taken out of the equation. For instance, Aviva recently replaced its paper access to medical reports declaration with an electronic one. It tells me now it gets responses from doctors within 24 hours, on average, compared to a two-week turnaround when using paper.
Email security is a further area where both advisers and providers could do better.
Sending an unencrypted email is like putting a postcard in the post; anyone handling it can read it. In fact, it is worse than that, as criminals have very efficient “sniffier” programmes that recognise key information such as bank account details and comb the internet for unencrypted data.
While Origo rolled out its secure mail solution some years ago, it is fair to say it has not been adopted as industry standard. Indeed, an increasing number of alternative solutions are emerging, but this means many advisers are finding providers will not use their chosen secure mail service. There needs to be some consensus. Perhaps a handful of systems might be recognised for general industry use?
More and more advisers are embracing technology and looking to transform the way they work. As they do this, having to deal with any paper becomes a real problem.
Against this backdrop, surely it is time to put a deadline on it: platforms and providers should be paper free by 2020.
Over the coming months, I will highlight the leaders and laggards in this area. Who are the good business partners and who would it better to avoid until they get their act together?
Ian McKenna is director of the Finance & Technology Research Centre