Over the last few months, I have looked at several of the specialist IFA software suppliers in this column, particularly exploring the technology they are delivering to support advisers in improving operational efficiency and reducing cost.
This week, I am going to explore how Plum Software is helping its clients prepare for the changes ahead.
One of the most important areas I believe IT systems should be delivering for advisers is in helping them define, deliver and document their advice processes after the RDR. In the case of Plum, it has adapted the workflow capability in the system to support such activity. A core part of the way that users work with the product is through the creation of tracks. These are, in effect, user-definable templates for operating processes within the advice business.
Tracks can cover a vast range of activities from compliance, policy tracking, client monitoring and events.
Activities within a track can be automatically linked to other processes such as the new business register to support regulatory reporting. A track can include a series of activities and events which can be added, deleted, made not applicable and assigned to different team members.
Tracks can be set up for individuals or for teams so a number of staff can use the process to look at both their own work and what is going on in the wider business.
This can be a valuable way for an adviser and their para-planner or administrator to organise who is carrying out which tasks as part of a particular track. Collaborating in this way removes the need for a constant stream of emails between staff.
Each event in a track has a related timeframe attached to it and if it does not take place in the timeline set up by the firm, this generates a reminder in the to-do list, ensuring no activity can be overlooked and creating an audit trail.
Advisers or paraplanners can create tracks to define and monitor all the activities that may have been agreed with a client.
Any process carried out as part of the agreed service standard can be tracked throughout the process to demonstrate the firm is delivering on its agreed customer proposition. Plum is creating a series of template adviser proposition tracks to help their clients with these processes.
Many adviser firms are looking to provide clients with access via the IFA’s own website as a key part of their propositions.
Established content within the Plum system allows the adviser to include a link on their own website to a dedicated area within Plum which adopts each adviser’s branding. From here, clients can log in to request more information, notify changes and request an update to their investment details.
The client can also see a number of reports. A client summary provides details of the individual’s information, contact details, occupation, employer, etc, with a freeformat capability to notify changes. An investment and savings summary shows the values of different investments based on the last time the adviser updated this information.
Again, an update to this information can be requested using a free format link. Finally, a policy summary report details each of the client’s investments with their values. A significant enhancement to this client tool is due to be delivered within the next three months.
An increasing number of advisers are becoming concerned about their ability to move all their client data if they choose to switch from one system to another. Plum managing director Ann Dempster stresses the importance of advisers being able to access and extract all their client data whenever they want it. Dempster says: “It is easy for software suppliers to talk about being able to move data in from any other system but we think it is really important to be able to provide this as a two-way capacity.”
The software continues to be available on a client-server basis for firms which want to store all their data locally but increasingly Plum customers are opting for the cloud-based version of the software.
Plum maintains its own private cloud server in Coventry with a suitable separate data centre elsewhere. As part of its normal operating processes, Plum supplies a full, encrypted back-up to each of its adviser clients on a monthly basis.
This has had significant benefits for some firms in being able to retrieve an exact copy of historic records in the event of complaints arising several years later.
It has long been recognised that client data is perhaps the most important element when it comes to defining who owns the client. I find it refreshing to see a software supplier that is so rigorously ensuring it provides a full summary of all client data to the adviser on a regular basis.
I share Ann Dempster’s view that it is far more important to understand if a software supplier can return all your data to you if you want to move to a new supplier rather than talk about how easily they can get the data in when they are trying to sell you a new system.
Far too few advisers get a clear undertaking on this subject when they are choosing a system supplier.
In the future, I believe portability of client data between different software suppliers will be seen as just as important as the ability to re-register client assets between platforms.
Although it may not be one of the best-known names in the industry, Plum is setting a standard here which many of its bigger peers would do well to follow.
Ian McKenna is director of the Finance & Technology Research Centre