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Are your business efficiencies working against you?

The pursuit for efficiency can often lead to just the opposite for adviser and client.

 The word “efficiency” is thrown around during business technology presentations with the precision of my two-year-old son navigating his way through beans on toast.

It is easy to tell him to eat his dinner nicely but turn your back for five seconds and I guarantee he is going to smear it all over his face, the table and his sisters, and feed some to the dog.

The common rallying cry of providers to advisers when they want their latest bit of kit to be adopted is that “it will help create greater efficiency in your business”.

Both the purveyor of such technology and the user are often guilty of the same complicity as my son and I: lack of support on my part and lack of application on his.

I assume he knows how to guide beans from plate to mouth but he does not understand why I insist on them being eaten that way when he wants to play a very different game.

Clients come first

I had the pleasure recently of discussing a potential new service development with the principal of an advice firm we work with. I wanted his input into the implications for an adviser’s day-to-day operations of a new service we are building.

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The response was insightful. He could see the “efficiencies” that could be achieved in terms of speeding up some background processes. However, his main concern was, quite rightly, his clients.

He had some really astute questions. How would this change look to his clients? What impact would it have upon the way they undertake client reviews? What changes would be required to portfolios when his clients are perfectly happy with the one they have got?

He also wanted to make sure that, if he created all these efficiencies, he would not be doing too little for his clients. He still wanted to be in control of giving advice, due care and attention to each and every one of them.

This is the strength of small- to medium-sized advice firms: a ruthless devotion to the best client outcomes. Couple this devotion with increased demand for advice due to market drivers such as pension freedoms and it is clear
to see why the number of directly regulated firms is growing and the advice profession is in rude health.

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That said, the search for “efficiency” can often lead to the opposite outcome for advisers and clients.

Here are my top tips for taking the vague and woolly out of the word, turning it into something practical and precise.

1. Know what your service is

If you know exactly what service you want to deliver, you can consider all systems and technology through that prism. Chopping and changing what you offer based on the availability of a new bit of kit is the wrong way around.

It will lead to disconnected bits of technology undertaking different tasks in isolation: a risk profiler here, a research tool there, a back-office system lurking in the background – and none of them talking to each other. Technology should be a service you pull into your business based on need, not one that is pushed into your business based on a new bell or whistle.

2. Know how long things take

If you know how long certain tasks take within your business, you can make quantifiable comparisons between today’s process and the proposed new approach. Efficiency becomes an actual time saver
rather than a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow.

3. Invest your time, not just money

I often hear people complain a certain bit of technology “just isn’t worth it. It doesn’t do what I want it to do.” In many cases, this is because insufficient time and effort has been given to understanding the capability of technology and making it fit certain business needs.

Finance & Technology Research Centre director and Money Marketing columnist Ian McKenna puts it best when he says advisers cannot expect software that can accommodate the complexity of our multi-faceted industry to operate with the simplicity of a social media app. But truly taking time to understand technology can reap enormous time savings.

I am going home later to feed the kids. I shall try to apply the same principles and hope for an orderly, efficient consumption of beans.

Dan Russell is managing director at SimplyBiz Investment Services



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