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Scott Gallacher: Providers are behind the times on paperless tech

Running a successful IFA practice means ensuring your firm is run as efficiently as possible and making good use of technology can be a key part of this.

Though expensive for us at the time, we invested in the Adviser Office back-office system many years ago. We reasoned that it would save us having to employ another administrator at the time and it has proved to be a great investment.

Allowing all our staff access to up-to-date client information quickly and simply improved our efficiency and allowed us to give our clients an even better service. On the compliance side, the ability to record all client remuneration proved essential for completing our Gabriel returns.

The system was also a great help when it came to issuing clients the recent Her Majesty’s Revenue & Customs client notification letters. Another IFA complained this had taken his firm about 30 working hours to complete, but for ourselves, the whole process — with a mail merge from Adviser Office — took us just a couple of hours.

When we were moving offices we realised going paperless, via an all-singing, all-dancing scanner, would be much cheaper than paying rent for additional space required for all the filing cabinets we had accumulated.

We have become big fans of FE Analytics, which has proved its worth many times over, especially with its integration to Adviser Office. A click or two generates a detailed analysis of the client’s entire underlying pension and/or investment portfolio regardless of providers.

Not only does this look great to clients, it is also a great compliance tool, illustrating how the overall portfolio matches the client’s risk profile.

We have now started looking at the use of electronic signatures which were first recognised by the EU in 1999 and were implemented into UK law shortly afterwards.

This would be fairly easy for us to adopt for our own client paperwork, terms of business, etc. But the key advantage would be the ability to send providers’ paperwork to our clients via secure email, or online link, for them to check, electronically sign and return without any postal delays.

Having researched this, it seems this is one area where product providers are definitely letting everyone down. We spoke to over 20 providers but found a frightening lack of acceptance or even awareness of them. Only Aegon really understood what we were asking about and were willing to accept these.

The Prudential told us that they couldn’t accept electronic signatures, although I understand from separate research that it has recently started accepting electronic signatures for its Retirement Account.

In this day and age, and almost 20 years after electronic signatures became legal, it seems a little antiquated, to put it mildly, that most of the UK’s financial services industry still need the client to physically sign a bit of paper.

Unfortunately, without widespread provider acceptance of electronic signatures there appears little benefit of advisers introducing them. And until advisers start using them there is little incentive for providers to accept them. A classic catch 22.

Scott Gallacher is director of Rowley Turton 



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There are 7 comments at the moment, we would love to hear your opinion too.

  1. Maybe the tide is about to turn on this one. Only the other day I saw Jane Hodges, known to many as a keen proponent of paperless processes in the advice businesses she drives, publicly pushing insurers on this. Also NextGen Planners are planning to publish a list of providers’ enabling digital signatures or not and make it available on the 1st Jan 2018.

  2. I should have said Jane’s tackling “providers” not just insurers.

  3. Thanks Ruth- seems to have turned into my Holy Grail at the moment- it is just maddening as so much money could be saved that could be passed onto consumers- and all the software is there already- the providers just have to accept it and yet they continue to just say they have concerns about the legal validity- the Law Society has already told all their members it is legal and there is just no sense to assuming it is any less secure than a piece of paper sent in the post- most of those I have sent in the post have strangely got lost between me and the person who is supposed to be actioning it. I know I can be a pain but I even hand-delivered a letter to one provider and it still never made it to the right department- technology means we can instantly get forms and signatures to the right place, cuts days off transacting business and reduces administration tasks unbelievably.

  4. I’ve got to the point where I’m not just embarrassed when I put a piece of paper in front of a client, I’m ashamed. Ashamed that (17 years after electronic signatures were first recognised) we are still too reliant on paper and ink to get business transacted with banks, providers and platforms.

    (The pitying looks from clients who are used to doing everything on their phone are the worst).

    I’ve warned supposedly award-winning platforms that if they don’t implement this soon they will be killed in the market.

    But they either just nod their heads, promise they are working on it… and then they go on about their own in-house solution (that is probably costing a fortune).

    NO! If you are a provider or platform bod reading this: Just accept DocuSign (other independent 3rd partly e-signature are also available).

    This issue has influenced a move in Back Office and platforms are next on my list.

  5. I’ve just have to use DocuSign to do a bit of personal business with Barclays. If it’s good enough for them why not platforms/providers?

    • I have with NW too. When it works it’s good, but they sent my forms to my wife and my wifes’ to me. As a result we’ve just not got round to swapping emails to sign them wheras had it been paper in the branch we’d have had an account open days ago.
      As with many things, both parties need the choice as neither is cheaper nor more efficient per se (like robo guidance and advice), but different methods suit different people at different times and cost of delivery isn’t about method alone.
      Complaints and some things are best handled/resolved face to face and process can often simply result in more complaints and complaints going on for longer than if you just take a seat together and work out what is needed.
      Providers are often dinosoeur like in their recognition that a contract can be written or verbal and that a signature historically for many people was one’s “mark” which quite often was an X. My signature isn’t quite that simple, but it is still simply a “mark”, it doesn’t say my name at all it is a reflection of the initials the bank I worked for made me apply to confirm documents as I had the same initials as one of my friends, so he initialled P.C and I (having no middle name) was told to initial P.G.C, so I did my normal and just applied a squiggle which was harder to forge than my peers P.C.His proved NOTHING mine was my true mark.
      As to digital signatures as I have said with “durable” mediums with the F-pack before when they implied that digital records were not “durable”, I reminded them that fax paper faded and was not durable at all, paper unless in multiple copies degraded quite often, so if they wanted durable, then perhaps Romany Army style wax tablets shoudl be used (as they are often found) or stamped lead (Bath’s Roman Baths) or perhaps even stone tablets, but we might just want to move in to the 21st centuary and do thinsg digitally as teh most likely thing to destroy electrinic records is EMP from a nucleur blast, in which case, we will not need a 15 year longstop as EVERYTHING will stop.

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