How to keep online advice fit for purpose

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Launching an online advice service to attract younger clients may be innovative in itself for many advisers with over 30 years’ experience in the industry.

But for founder of online advice firm Said So Keith Churchouse, innovation is about keeping up with how people want to use a service that delivers advice from qualified advisers remotely.

Even if Said So has more in common with traditional advice services than it has with fully automated robo-advice, there is more to it than creating a website and expecting clients to flock there.

Churchouse, who is also director at traditional advice firm Chapters Financial, established Said So in 2015. The experience was something that provided ample material for a book –  Scared of Something Different, Journey of Business Disruption and Innovation – which he wrote last year.

He says: “The world is evolving through technology at a fast rate and the way people choose to access all services, including financial advice, needs to react to the challenge and opportunity this creates.”

Consequently, mobile phone compatibility was something Churchouse insisted on for Said So at the start.

“One of our requirements for our web development specification was that it was mobile compatible. We have been innovating in the online advice space for over a decade and technology has not always affordably allowed mobile functionality. However, this is no longer the case and we built accordingly from the outset.”

Churchouse had expected the average age profile of Said So’s users to be lower than the actual statistics for the website’s visitors: 21.7 per cent are aged 25-34, 20.8 per cent are 35-44 and 19.3 per cent are 45-54.

Interestingly, more people in the 55-64 age bracket (16 per cent) are using the site than those aged 18-24 (11.7 per cent). The remaining 10.5 per cent of users are 65 and over.

He says: “The internet and its users are no respecter, only a creator, of stats. We did not think the demographic of mobile accessibility was particularly age restricted, and this has certainly been confirmed through our data collection. However, the design, wording and approach to the development of Said So was focused at a younger age group – aged below 40.”

Said So is working hard to build trust in online advice and ensuring people do not confuse its services with algorithm-based ones. The security of data is another important issue that has been addressed.

Churchouse says:“We hear of accounts being hacked all the time, so we wanted to ensure the web developer was at the forefront of industry security standards and would implement any changes fast to protect sensitive data if required.”

“We have been innovating in the online advice space for over a decade and technology has not always affordably allowed mobile functionality.”

Abandoned shopping carts

Making it easy for people to register or fill in a form and then return to it later is also a priority. Online retailers use similar strategies to deal with abandoned shopping carts. For the financial services equivalent of form abandonment, a combination of simple language and reminders are required.

Churchouse says: “We send two follow-up emails. The first comes around three days after the initial login saying ‘thank you for registering with Said So; we notice you haven’t completed the forms.’ The second is a couple of weeks later as a gentle reminder. There is no point in sending any more, as the user is unlikely to come back after two reminders.

“We have tried to make the forms easier with an ‘upload’ option so if the user does not understand the paperwork they have and how it correlates to the questions on our form, they can just upload a photo or scan of the relevant pages for us to help them.”

Last year, Said So launched a wealth dashbord app, which has been shortlisted in the Surrey Digital Awards 2017. The app is a projection tool, allowing people to input a range of factors to get an idea of how much money they will have in the future; for example, when they retire.

Explaining the rationale behind the app, Churchouse says: “Simply put, we did not think the website went far enough in its engagement with potential younger users, who might prefer more instant answers to their future money planning.”

For Churchouse, technology and its application to advice is not going to go away, only expand.

He says: “This does not mean traditional businesses will suffer because of it; they will benefit if they take the plunge into the future.

“Traditional face-to-face advice propositions and online advice can and will survive, thrive and benefit together, certainly for the next decade. Advisory companies need to embrace this future change, and its significant infrastructure investment cost, before it becomes unobtainable. Sure, there will be white label opportunities but you would not white label your main company.”