A number of recent studies suggest that over half of IFA firms do not have, or at least do not actively use, a back-office system. I have already written on a number of occasions this year about why I believe it is essential that firms begin to take advantage of the benefits that storing client information electronically can offer them.
Fortunately, there appears to be no shortage of organisations aiming to help advisers achieve this, the latest entrant to the arena being Synaptic Systems. It has long operated in the areas of desktop research systems for IFAs. Its current Product Research Professional system has around 8,000 paying subscribers. The company has now turned its attention to areas of the adviser business process before research begins.
One of the challenges of becoming electronic is creating a database of all your client records without going through too much pain. I have made it clear previously that advisers can only expect to realise fully the benefits of investing time and money in this way once the client database is fully populated.
On this occasion, Synaptic has rather cleverly sidestepped this issue, choosing to focus on front-office activity and contact management rather than back-office functions.
The software is being rolled out in three phases and coincides with the release of a totally new version of its research product. It has rebranded its suite of software products as Synaptic Manager.
The initial release, a contact management system, is available now. In August, it will add a fund analyst product, contact integration with Microsoft Outlook and networking facilities. By November, fact-find and needs' ana- lysis modules will be added.
The contact management module also includes reports, a new business register, manual commission tracking and document management. This makes it easy to start creating simple client records. There are a few tricks that Microsoft would do well to follow for future versions of Outlook.
All data can be entered in lower case and the system will adopt appropriate capitalisation. It recognises postcodes, so populates these to the right field and, if connected to the web, it will pull up a map of the postcode – useful if you are going to visit the client for the first time.
A number of fields intuitively offer potential data for other fields. For example, the first part of a client's email address is suggested on the basis of the name that has been entered. Once a domain has been entered for the email, it then goes on to automatically suggest the client's website address based on the email address.
Having created the user, you can create appointments, list policies and link stored documents, effectively creating a single point of access to information on your computer about the client, even if the information is not physically located within the Synaptic software.
The system will use Outlook or Outlook Express for its email client and emails sent can be linked into the client record as part of the document list. Contacts will be shared with MS Outlook and Windows address books from the August update. Personally, I would have liked to have seen this feature in at launch.
Another slight frustration is the fact that the initial release of the software is only single-user – full networking integration will not come until the August update. On the other hand, the package is clearly targeted at those small IFA businesses which do not have an existing system, so probably would only have a very limited number of computers in their office.
Equally, given the fact that there is no monthly fee for this software until November, it is hard to complain if a few features are slightly delayed for a product that advisers are not going to be paying for.
It is easy to reuse information from an existing contact when creating a new one. This is achieved by recognising the relationship between the two. For example, a new record for a client recognised as colleague of an existing one would bring across the employer company category (a user-definable list for defining prospects, clients and so on), address, phone number, non-personal part of the email address and website address. As you would expect, reminders and alarms can be added to any type of task.
The software integrates to Microsoft Word (97 version or later) for letter writing, mailshots and so on, and any letters created in this way are automatically stored under the client record, including creating a folder for the client, where appropriate. This would normally be located within the My Documents area but the adviser can choose any other location they prefer.
As many of the users of this product may not have used software for keeping client records before, it is probably appropriate to point out that, once you start to do so, it becomes absolutely essential to start doing regular back-ups of your data, ideally on a daily basis.
The reporting features include summaries on client demographics, product spreads and time management. Individual types of reports can be created using filters and the settings saved so that repeat reports can be easily generated.
Existing Product Research Professional users can try the new CRM module for no additional charge between now and November. There is a one-off charge of Â£25 plus VAT for the upgrade to the new Synaptic Manager. From November, the cost will be Â£25 per user per month in addition to the charge for the research products.
This pack is very much aimed at the micro-IFA with a limited number of staff. It is not a head-to-head competitor for some of the bigger back-office systems. However, it has the potential to add considerable value to a small firm with no current computerised record-keeping.
Certainly, for any existing Synaptic users who do not have a back-office system, the opportunity to spend nearly six months getting to know the software without having to pay the monthly fee must be an attractive proposition.
Ian McKenna is a consultant and director of the Financial Technology Research Centre, which works for a wide range of industry organisations, life offices and technology companies, including Microsoft and The Exchange. He can be contacted by email at firstname.lastname@example.org Tel: 020 7935 2599