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Inside EDGE by Andrew Bedford

The internet continues to unlock both opportunities and challenges for the retail financial services sector.

It has dramatically altered consumer behaviour, increa-sed competition in the marketplace, collapsed global and organisational boundaries and driven down both costs and margins. To say that financial services organisations need to seize the internet opportunity is old news. They already are and, in the UK, financial services organisations are seen as leading the way in the adoption of e-commerce initiatives.

These companies are looking to develop one-stop, convenience-led products and services in an increasingly con- sumer-driven environment.

Now so-called lifestyle acc-ounts mean consumers can mix and match their financial resources across traditional boundaries. Such a service draws all a customer&#39s banking activities into a single point of contact.

The customer can perform all their admin from a central point and reap the benefits of a simplified account structure. For the institution, with all back-office functions brought together into one, it is easier to get a snapshot of an accountholder&#39s overall financial situation, providing invaluable information for the formation of an effective customer relationship management policy.

In the UK, the Woolwich has won plaudits from the City and customers for its open plan, which realigns their operations by customer rather than by type of product.

Where a customer needs access to advice, an adviser can use the same technology to design a system that centralises information, predicts a customer&#39s needs and offers advice across financial disciplines, providing an enriched and consolidated online service.

IFAs are already benefiting from data aggregation techniques by using portals such as m-link, the IFA-dedicated portal designed by Misys. Such portals provide advisers with fast and convenient access to all the information they need from multiple providers to serve their customers better. In an industry as big and complex as the UK insurance market, IFAs need instant access to information plus the ability to conduct transactions efficiently and cost-effectively.

The fund supermarket is a simple concept. At the click of the mouse, users can build investment portfolios from a combination of different fund providers. By channelling access to funds through a single interface, the fund supermarket effectively eliminates the need for consumers to contact lots of individual companies and plough through paperwork to find the best products.

Consumer demands are shaping the way the industry does business and there are huge opportunities for IFAs, fund managers and the providers themselves to work together to increase the value of the services they offer.

Advances in internet technology have provided financial services institutions with the ability to operate and serve customers efficiently and instantly and to collaborate online with trading partners as never before. For businesses to succeed in this fast-moving environment, technology needs to be fluid so that organisations can adapt to changing business conditions. Technology should not be an investment that locks the IFA to a particular direction or strategy.

Solutions need to be developed for IFAs that allow them to spend more time providing advice to customers, automatically work through a compliant business processes, and ultimately help the IFA achieve their business and marketing plans, whatever that may be. This needs one or two of the major software providers in financial services to deliver much needed applications for IFAs.

Andrew Bedford is head of marketing at Misys IFA Services

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