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's
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's 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 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 (www.sort.co.uk) 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's site (www. hargreaves-lans down.co.uk) has video
interviews with technology fund managers which provide the inside track in
an easy to understand format.
Investment sites (such as www. etrade.co.uk or www. iii.co.uk) 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't 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 www.baby
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
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's internet site
takes into account a customer's 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's 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's
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.