Ian McKenna

I was mildly amused recently when I received an invitation from Global Asset Management to the launch of their new CD-ROM. The invitation proudly announced that the American version of this disk had recently won first prize in the “Business to Business” category at the British Interactive Multimedia association awards. This confused me slightly as by GAMs own admission the products featured on the US disk cannot be sold in the UK.

It occurred to me that the award might also be sub-titled best use of multimedia to breach the Financial Services Act however GAM insist that the award winning disk was eligible for entry as it was produced in the this country. Only the separate UK orientated disk is being distributed to IFAs.

Having spent some time looking at the CD this leads me to wonder how much those who made this award actually knew about financial services as I have to say that I believe this is an excellent lesson in how not to design such products. Last November I looked at key questions any product providers should when developing technology tools (see Money Marketing 13/11/97). Since then I have spent a considerable amount of time talking to product providers about various offerings and am pleased to report that there would appear to be some excellent CD ROM and on-line products shortly to be launched to support IFAs, regrettably this is not one of them.

On this disk GAM really have made every classic mistake imaginable. They claim it is a useful guide to all their funds featuring video clips from various fund managers, details of the underlying investments, strategy etc. All very well but they openly admit that they are only going to issue revised versions of the disk every three months.

Am I missing something? If you want view from a fund manager do you want their current views, or one which could be anything up to three months out of date? When GAM came to demonstrate the disk things become a little clearer. All the managers views shown at the press briefing actually dated back to 1994, never mind three months old. To be fair there are a number of more recent views included on the CD, several from this year but a number spread over the last four years and some fund managers make no comments at all! This is hardly a consistent approach, if you are going to put out a tool like this surely all managers should participate and with up to date views!

A further “benefit” advocated by GAM was that Key Features Documents could be printed from the disk. Do IFAs really want a separate CD-ROM to generate key features documents for each provider? I think not, the place for key feature facilities is as part of wider systems that can generate these documents from many providers.

Another facility about which GAM thought was clever was one which would enable the adviser to trawl through all their funds and help them identify which was appropriate. Only one problem here, the small matter of the financial services act. A facility like this would be fine for a tied adviser, however, my understanding of the role of is that they look at all the products available in the market, not just those from a single provider.

Just in case I had missed a recent rule change I asked the PIA to confirm this. Press officer Iris Baker was very clear that “an IFA cant use a CD just using the products of a single provider as the basis to give advice” which I think sums things up very nicely.

Sadly this appears to be a classic case of a product provider either not understanding or not taking into account how IFAs work. GAM appear to have built something that may reduce their stationary bill and possibly given their fund managers a nice ego trip, but in the real world I cant see what possible use it has. My copy is now residing in what I can see as the only place for it, the rubbish bin.

There are however lessons to be learnt. CD-ROM are only an appropriate medium for time sensitive information if they are going to be put out frequently (at least once per month). If you are not going to distribute at least this frequently, put non-time sensitive content on a CD and back it up with other communications mediums such as a dedicated Extranet. Does any adviser want to risk giving advice based on the composition of a funds investments three months ago?

Also design products that will help the IFA process and can be used in a compliant way. The fund selection tool could have worked, had given the adviser the opportunity to compare other funds against those from GAM. There are ways of doing this without having to include other providers details on your CD.

Two years ago (when I understand the US disk was designed) this might have looked like good use of new technology. Now it demonstrates a provider who does not appear to understand the technology or the ways IFAs work, or both. It is a sad comment on GAMs apparent commitment to the UK market that they appear to have just recycled the US product rather than try to come up with something helpful and innovative.

In the light of the above I probably wont feature on Global Asset Managements Christmas card list this year, for those of you that do I can only hope they are better designed than their CD ROM products!