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Live in the real-time world

Sort is a new generation of financial adviser which works primarily works

over the internet with no face-to-face contact.

We do not sell products or take commission but charge relatively low fixed

fees. Our advice is tailored to the indiv idual, giving specific product

recommendations where appropriate, and is also compliant with regulator


Before we launched the business, we commissioned research into people&#39s

attitudes towards independent advice. We learned that about 70 per cent of

adults do value independent advice but only about 30 per cent make use of


There were a number of reasons for this but the one that came back to us

time and time again was that it is simply too difficult to get access to a

good adviser. The single most important implication of internet technology

for our industry is that it offers wide and rapid 24-hour instant access to

independent financial advice in a world where time is increasingly at a


According to the latest Fletcher research, 21 per cent of UK adults are

now online. Importantly for our industry, people connecting to the web are

also typically the more affluent and more time-pressured – the traditional

adviser&#39s best customers.

The second implication is that the internet is a great leveller. The

research which has to be done to ensure £30 a month is invested in the best

Isa available is exactly the same as ensuring a £400,000 unit-linked bond

investment is invested well. So why charge differently? The basic work is

the same and over the internet the cost to serve the customer is exactly

the same.

The internet means that, for the majority of product-based decisions,

traditional fee levels will fall significantly.

Customers want three things from financial advice, according to research

conducted last year by the National Consumer Council:

1: A clear explanation of everything I do not understand.

2: Considers my overall financial situation.

3: Has an independent body to provide comparative product information.

A clear explanation of everything I do not understand

How many times have you sat in front of a client trying to explain how one

technology fund differs from another, what to consider on reaching

retirement or the current value of their portfolio. Without the right

visual aids, it is difficult but with technology the opportunities are


Our website ( has step-by-step guides to the major

financial decisions in easy-to-read formats which, using the unique ability

of the internet, ensures that, should visitors require more depth, it is

there at the touch of a button.

Hargreaves Lansdown&#39s site (www. hargreaves-lans has video

interviews with technology fund managers which provide the inside track in

an easy to understand format.

Investment sites (such as www. or www. provide

portfolio monitoring facilities with all the data and graphing tools a

person could ask for to ensure that they can get a clear picture of their


Currently, a lot of website content provided is static and without links

to human advi sers. Companies such as Misys, however, have plans to change

this by providing video links through to advisers, allow ing customers to

access real people in the midst of all this online content.

So long as customers have access to sufficient band width and video

phones, the virtual adviser cannot be far away. How sitting at one end of a

video phone compares with the intimacy of meeting your clients face to face

is a matter of personal preference.

The important caveat is that the information which is most valued is that

which I as an individual do not understand. Don&#39t tell me everything, tell

me what I need to know.

This level of personalisation is poorly provided in the UK at the moment

but, if you want to see it done well, go to the American site

Tell them when the baby is due (or use your imagination and make it up)

and from that point on the whole exp erience is tailored to the

mother-to-be&#39s situation.

The potential to help inform a customer about their finan ces over time in

this way is clearly there.

My overall situation

This is where advisers come into their own and quite rightly too.

Information is one thing but advice is quite another. Sort&#39s internet site

takes into account a customer&#39s overall financial situation before advising

them in real time.

This means our customers know the advice they get is suitable and why it

is right for them. For us, it ensures that we can provide recommendations

which really are as good and wide-ranging as they can be for an

individual&#39s specific set of circumstances. It is the application of smart

technology, along with a lot of expert humans, which allows us to do this.

An independent body to compare products

There are many sources of information available to both advisers and

customers listing the different attributes of the thousands of products,

plans and policies on the market.

Many of these are now available on the internet, including exweb (when it

works) from The Exchange, Moneyfacts, MoneyNet, Ifonline and so on.

Comparisons are important – of that there is no doubt – but as far as we

are concerned what is actually required is the presence of an independent

body, be it human or electronic or both, to take into account a customer&#39s

overall situation and only then compare products to find the best deal or


The people spending time and money using our real-time online Isa adviser

service are not doing so because they simply want a league table – they can

get that from a number of sources. What they are looking for is a smarter

way to get advice and, most important, advice that is specific to them.

They are happy to use technology to do this.


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