Nick Eatock is a geek at heart.
At age 16 in 1985, he wrote Britain’s top-selling computer game, Sorderon’s Shadow – the same year Duran Duran topped the charts.
Since then, he has stayed on the pulse of technology, as executive chairman and founder of Intelliflo.
The story starts in 1997, when Eatock had “a vision” the internet would be big – and not just for consumers. Businesses would run over the internet, he thought, it would not just be a shop front. His first CRM and document management software programme launched that year; “ridiculously early,” he points out.
“We forget how expensive internet access was,” says Eatock. He recounts an early meeting with a client who showed him a stack of bills from his internet service provider. The data costs were five times the cost of the Intelliflo subscription.
The cloud system offers many benefits, one of which is cyber security. He points to the recent WannaCry ransomware attacks, which affected the NHS and other organisations in May. “That is the best case for why you shouldn’t keep data on a PC. It is so easy to target nowadays.”
Eatock believes the regulator has done a good job on cyber security. It recognises advisers have a lot of sensitive customer data and he has been impressed to see it talk about the cloud and why storing data there is important.
The new General Data Protection Regulation rules come into effect from May next year, with steep fines for those that breach them. The rules will require firms to report if customer data has been compromised, which will then be published.
Recent figures from Intelliflo show 82 per cent of investors would move their business if they found out their financial adviser had been hacked. “Fines are one issue but the risk that 82 per cent of clients might go, that is a big problem,” he says.
Does Eatock see Intelliflo competing with platforms in the future? He is clear: it will not replace the platform. “There is definitely overlap,” he acknowledges. But the platform is the custodian of the assets, the aggregator of the trades and it handles client money, something Eatock is adamant Intelliflo does not do.
Platform choices pinched
On market trends more broadly, he expects to see consolidation of some sort among investment platforms. Intelliflo’s own analysis of flows reveals that “more and more money is going to the big guys”.
Advisers using Intelliflo use 3.3 platforms but he expects that figure to go down further. Advisers use different platforms for different segments, and he believes the offerings are sufficiently varied to warrant using three.
He also points to the regulatory imperative to use more than one. He believes that using more than one platform gives the adviser “leverage to change the business if needed… it means the adviser isn’t hostage to one platform.”
We turn our attention to the size and structure of the financial advice market. Platforum’s view is that we are seeing a barbell effect: there will be a few bigger firms with lots of advisers at one end, and a thriving group of smaller IFA businesses at the other. Eatock agrees.
“The best comparison is to the accountancy sector, where you have one or two dozen large firms and a stack of smaller regional firms,” he says.
Eatock is confident technology will change the market for advice by increasing the capacity for advisers to work with greater numbers of clients. He is a strong believer in automated advice.
The average adviser services about 150 clients but he would like to see that increase to “300, 500 or 1,000.” He adds: “This would mean more people would have access to advice. Technology can help with that.”
Intelliflo crunches the numbers regularly and reckons the number of advisers is increasing by one or two per cent a year. “That isn’t fast enough but it’s also about affordability.
“Technology is there to take strain,” says Eatock. He thinks that a low-cost, high-tech solution can help and believes advisers should invest in this type of tool. After all, automated advice is a way to recruit the next generation of clients, he says.
But if big brands struggle to attract clients profitably, how will small and medium sized advice firms? Eatock says: “Of the 8.6 million end customers on Intelliflo’s systems, two million are actively advised. This leaves six million transactional clients not actively being advised.” Automated advice can also help advisers service inactive clients already on their books.
Another big opportunity for this type of proposition lies in the workplace. “The adviser will only have a personal advice relationship with two or three per cent of people in the business. Automated advice can help start relationships with the other 97 per cent,” he says.
In Sorderon’s Shadow, the player (called “the un-named one”) has to complete nine tasks and slay the evil wizard Sorderon by enlisting friends, avoiding enemies, using weapons and paying people in gold. Eatock’s Intelliflo technology is not altogether different. But instead of freeing the enslaved people of Elindor, it is making investment management easier for advisers and serving investors.
Heather Hopkins is head of Platforum. Read more of Platforum’s Big Interview series with Money Marketing here.
2015-present: Executive chairman, Intelliflo
2000-2014: Founder and chief executive, Intelliflo
1997-1999: Founder, Eatock Young consultancy
1994-1996: Freelance IT consultant
1991-1993: Freelance screenplay writer