It appears to me that in the majority of cases there are two main issues affecting an IFA's use of technology – time and money.
This view is borne out of many discussions I have had with IFAs over the years but more recently optimum use of technology has become the must-have for IFAs. A comment at one of our recent conferences from IFA Arthur Beverly of Arthur Beverly Financial Management sums it up particularly well.
He said: “The bottom line is money. IFAs have to strike a balance between technology and advice. Advisers do not earn anything for sitting in front of a PC but someone in the office needs to fully understand how technology drives the business and focus all office processes on it.” I could not agree more. Technology is not a strategy in itself and should not be considered separately. It must run completely through IFAs' businesses to facilitate what they do best – advise.
More and more IFAs are using technology to support parts of their business pro-cess. The majority probably use some kind of online comparative quotation service and online product research tools. An increasing number are downloading product information and key features documents from portals and provider extranet sites.
The latest development has been the emergence of online transactions which, are starting to increase in volume.
Most of this technology supports the IFA around the actual sale of a product. But there is also the technology available to support an IFA's pre-sale activity and their back-office admin.
At the moment, if an IFA uses all this technology, they probably do not get it from one solutions provider. This creates two problems. First, they have to pay separately for each element and are thus not benefiting from the econ-omies of scale of using a single supplier. Second, it means all the components they use work independently of each other. The key now is to integrate all this technology into a single technology platform upon which an IFA can run his business.
I see a future when IFAs will be able to benefit from back-office admin functions that are fully integrated with their existing quotation and transaction services.
This new technology platform will cut down on time spent on admin because they will only have to enter data once and will always have an up to date, single view of each client's activity. Undoubtedly, the efficiencies of this end-to-end platform will save IFAs time in reduced admin but, as I mentioned earlier, it also boils down to money. How are IFAs going to be able to afford a complex IT system to accommodate all this functionality?
The beauty of it is they will not have to. The system can be hosted by a third party, with IFAs accessing the services via their PC or laptop. This removes the need for advisers to spend money dev-eloping expensive IT systems that will be discounted from their balance sheets by the regulator.
In short, what we will be looking at is a single technology platform that can help IFAs at every stage of their business process, provided cost effectively over a secure network. It will ultimately enable IFAs to save time, reduce costs and deliver improved levels of customer service.
Jim Gaskin is managing director of The Exchange