Last week, I looked at the services Skandia is making available to IFAs to help populate their own websites. The first fund supermarket to launch tools to populate IFAs' own websites was Fidelity's FundsNetwork.
It is nearly a year since it launched this facility initially via The Exchange, which would offer a standard version of FundsNetwork with the normal look and feel used by Fidelity, either as one of The Exch-ange Adviser Web Build sites or standard linked web pages, known as hot-links, for those firms which already have their own website.
The Exchange currently charges £34 for the Silver Web Builder but has discontinued promoting the hotlinks as these can now be obtained free from Fidelity via its hotlink wizard.
This allows users to set up sites with a selected range of products or the full FundsNetwork range. It is also possible to choose to have just the new business module or include the client servicing facilities as well so that the client can access their existing investments via FundsNetwork and carry out switches and initiate redemptions if they want to.
For significant connections, Fidelity is now also offering a white-label version of FundsNetwork. Those firms taking this route download a file which Fidelity calls a dynamic template. This enables them to heavily configure the site in terms of colour schemes, use of logos and much of the text on pages although for compliance purposes some of this cannot be changed.
Within the template, you see a layout of the typical FundsNetwork site. Each item on this standard layout is numbered with a box at the side through which the user changes the configuration they want by altering numeric colour codes, editing text, etc.
As each change is made, the template changes to reflect the alterations made so the IFA gets a preview of what their site will look like. Full help text is included to guide you through the process.
Having populated the template and configured it to a look and feel the adviser is happy with, this is then emailed to FundsNetwork, which will carry out testing themselves and provide restricted access so that the adviser can carry out their own testing.
Generally, white-label sites go live within six weeks of the file being returned to FundsNetwork. I am told the only thing that normally delays this is if the advisers do not do their testing promptly, so this is worth remembering.
The white-label version of the service also has some very powerful tools for management information. Users can request regular reports at daily weekly or monthly intervals to identify further sales opportunities. These include details of sales, topups, switches and redemptions and are delivered in a CSV format so firms with the right level of technical knowledge can import this information directly to their back office systems.
Reports will also identify those clients who have an Isa but no current year contributions to FundsNetwork or Fidelity via the IFA or those who have some investment but have not contributed the full £7,000 in the current year.
In addition, reports can be run on those clients with a particular provider or fund so that switches can be considered if market conditions warrant.
For this version of the service, the IFA is given control over customising the set of funds offered. This will allow them to offer a specific strategy to their clients, say, ethical investment or creating a particular investment strategy for a worksite marketing presence. This is an important function and ideally should really be included in the hotlink version as well.
One significant difference between the approaches of Fidelity and Skandia is that FundsNetwork can fully reflect any individual deals the adviser may have done with a specific fund manager on pricing. This is available on both the hotlink and white-label versions of the service and involves the IFA completing a spreadsheet, identifying the deals they have agreed with the fund managers and returning it to Fidelity who in turn confirm all the arrangements with the funds.
Skandia, on the other hand, has a standard set of charges for each fund with its service but is offering a 0.5 per cent enhancement for business submitted using the online service.
As with Skandia, both versions of the Fidelity service allow the IFA to set their own commission shape so they can enhance their online terms for clients if they want to.
As I was finishing this column, I learnt that The Exchange is due to launch an upgrade of its version of FundsNetwork for advisers' websites. This will also include facilities which allow the IFAs clients to look at fund charts and access fact sheets from Standard and Poor's.
This will be available as a £35 add-on to the existing Silver Web Builder service or a £25 add-on to the Gold sites. I have not yet had the chance to test this service which is part of a wider relaunch of The Exchange's web-building services currently being released in phases. I hope to look at these in the near future as part of a wider review of the various options for IFA on what is available from various providers in this area.
There is, of course, a third major player in the fund supermarket arena, Cofunds. At the time of writing, it is my understanding that its tools to populate IFA websites will not be available until December. In my view, this is cutting it a bit fine for advisers to plan their 2001/2 Isa campaign and of course Cofunds does not exactly have the best of records when it comes to delivering online services when it says it is going to.
Personally, I can't help feeling that at least some of their sponsor's remarks when renewing Cofunds budget recently sounded an awful lot like a football club chairman confirming that his manager had his full backing and we all know what that usually means. It will be interesting to watch progress in the next few months.
Given that the tools from Fidelity and Skandia are available today, my advice to IFAs who are serious about wanting to attract significant additional inc-ome by conducting an online Isa campaign this year would be to choose between one of the options already available for the current tax year and review this decision for the following tax year once the Cofunds tools are available. No doubt by this time there will also be a number of other players in the market.
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, Assuresoft and The Exchange. He can be contacted by email at email@example.com
Tel: 020 7935 2599