The Financial Technology Research Centre has conducted a study into the ecommerce facilities available to group pension IFAs to see what their top priorities are.
High on the list is the providers' ability to share information on the pension scheme with the IFA, allowing the adviser to populate information back to their client management system and plan campaigns around it.
Standard Life's new bulk download service aims to do just that. Obtaining bulk messages from life offices is not new. What differentiates this service from any other that I have seen is that the adviser can request what they want from the life office and collect it in one working day. This is now available for 37,000 group pension schemes arranged by Standard Life.
The service uses version two of the Origo XML standards which is so new that none of the IFA software houses are set up to use it.
Now that providers can deliver bulk messages, it will be interesting to see which software provider will be the first to establish such a service. This does not, however, mean IFAs cannot use it because Standard Life offers a comma separated value download as an alternative to the XML.
The service can be accessed via Standard Life's IFA extranet at www.ifazone.com by selecting the bulk data download option. Adviser are guided through three stages and have to choose from a series of options.
First, you have to decide whether you want a CSV or an XML download and define how much scheme information you need.
The new Origo Standard allows for two types of bulk download. A basic bulk message, sometimes called a light bulk download, comprises policyholder/ member details, policy details, fund breakdown and valuation data.
A full download includes all the information in the basic download plus fund allocation, pension term, length of service, trust information, last recorded transaction, policy status and contribution details.
A full bulk message is intended to be used for the initial population of an adviser's system and an annual update to check if any information has been received by the provider that is not held by the adviser. It is important that the adviser's system can run an exception report to see if there is any difference between the information in the download and that on the adviser's system.
The basic bulk message is designed for more frequent use, say, once a month, to coincide with the production of regular mon-thly statements.
This ensures the size of the download is manageable although most office-based internet connections are now on an unlimited use basis. With the increased use of GPRS services in laptop PCs and, in a few months, 3G data networks by advisers on the road, these steps to limit the size of data transmitted will be prudent. Both forms of bulk message are designed to be used with the real time version of the standards when information is needed immediately on an individual client contract.
Once you have chosen the data format and how much data you require, you need to indicate the contracts or agencies you want the information on. This can be for a single scheme, in which case, the user enters the scheme number and clicks request. Alter-natively, the system can provide a list of schemes controlled by the adviser. Multiple schemes can be accommodated in a single download.
Data can also be selected by product type, where the adviser chooses a download to cover all their agencies. The service provides requests for group pension plans, group stakeholder, occupational defined-contribution individual pension, individual stakeholder and FSAVCs. Once you have selected the data, click the submit button. A confirmation screen will summarise the details of the file and your email address.
If you have requested a CSV, you will receive a WinZip file. If you don't have WinZip, you will be directed to the site where you can download it. You should receive the file in one working day.
An email is sent to you when the file is ready and can be downloaded from ifazone.com, where it is stored for seven days.
What really makes a difference with this service is that the adviser can go online and request the data, with the life office committed to delivery within a specific timescale.
The process is operated as a series of automated batch runs so there is no human interface and no reason why things should go wrong. This allows the adviser to plan their own activity more effectively.
Many more providers will shortly be launching services based around bulk download. This is an important step and will help IFAs improve the quality of client data they hold and customer services.