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Judgement day – Ian McKenna

Judging the Best Use of New Media section in the recent Money Marketing awards involved probably the most diverse range of entries that I have ever seen.

The judging panel included, in addition to myself, Shaun Crawford, partner, Financial Services for IBM, and Gareth Arnold, international group manager – online services for Microsoft – clearly a group of people who understand what new media can deliver to our market.

This year’s entries provided tremendous diversity from the outstanding to the awful. I thought it might be beneficial to provide a more detailed summary of what the judges liked and disliked and to provide some additional thoughts on some of the triumphs and tragedies I have seen in other new e-commerce services in recent months.

I am happy to credit the excellent but I think in this instance it is only fair to spare the blushes of the unfortunate so I will not be naming some of the more shameful examples, just pointing to general pitfalls that should be avoided.

The most outstanding entry was again from Positive Solutions but I will not be discussing that here as my next column will be dedicated to examining the latest technology offering from the IFA firm which sets the benchmark in the use of technology and e-commerce.

There were other highly commendable entries. The online group pension service from t-bx, part of t-bx Solu-tions, the recent buyout from AWD, demonstrated it is possible to write significant volumes of group pension business electronically and provide an exceptional service to scheme members using electronic processing.

Bankhall, whose engine service for IFAs goes from strength to strength, has been joined by its mortgage service for Point One members.

Among the life and pension providers, Scottish Life was by far the most exceptional with its online switching services.

It was notable, with the exception of Scottish Life, that investment provider entries, showed a lack of understanding about the ways in which technology could help advisers improve their processes.

All too often, tools were submitted which only allowed the adviser to look at the products of a single provider or that required manual entry of details of other providers’ products.

With the availability of Origo Contract Enquiry messages for the life and pension market and EMX valuations for managed funds, it is time the e-commerce departments of product providers started to recognise that planning tools are only of benefit to advisers if they can take into account all the investments of a client.

Overall, too many prov-iders are not spending as much time as they need to understand fully what will help advisers and they are undermining from the outset the return that they could get in new services.

A good example of this in the wider marketplace is the mess that surrounds registration for e-commerce services, with nearly every provider having a significantly different registration process.

Product providers start building services on what will improve their business process without giving enough thought to the impact it will have on advisers. A perfect example of this is the trend among some fund managers and supermarkets to start sending commission statements as Adobe PDF files rather than on paper.

This saves the fund company from having to print large amounts of paper and the cost of transporting them but it means the adviser receives a document electronically but has no means of imp- orting the data to their system without re-keying.

The worst possible example of this was one firm which, following a change of ownership, sopped using Origo standard commission EDI messages, which could be read electronically and started sending PDF files. Talk about a giant leap backwards.

This is becoming a major barrier to advisers signing up for contract enquiry services and, if it cannot be resolved quickly, I fear we may not see the economies that so many companies have budgeted for actually arrive this year.

Working with the Adviser Forum, Origo has produced some best practice guidelines but we need to see life companies moving quickly to adopt these if the momentum is not to be lost.

It can be amusing to see what some people have the front to put up as an award for “best” use of new media.

This year, we had an entry that was the worst I have seen in the many years I have been involved with the Money Marketing awards. One company had the nerve to submit an entry which was simply all its paper brochures converted to PDF files and put on a CD-Rom.

Another consistent mistake is launching services giving specific commitments to regular updates and then not delivering them. This year, we saw an entry from an investment company which promised quarterly briefings from all its investment managers and that the site was updated daily. The only problem was when I visited the site on January 24, the front page clearly stated that all information was correct as of September 1, 2004.

The lesson here is do not commit to things you are not sure you can deliver on.

If you give examples of services which are affected by time then keep them current.

One online site we looked at provided examples of comparison premiums for life cover but again when viewed in January, the examples we shown as correct as of November 2002! How many people would see such a statement without questioning the quality of service they might receive from a company?

We have seen some excellent new e-commerce services launched for advisers in the last year and I know we will see even more in the next 12 months. The gulf between the best and the worst, however, seems to be widening.I look forward to examining some of the best and worst in the near future.

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