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Meeting of minds

Time is probably the most precious commodity in people’s lives today. Who would not like a few more hours to themselves each week?

Most advisers, as well as their clients, are cash-rich but time-poor, so technology that enables the adviser to release a few extra hours each week has to be attractive. This is exactly what Scottish Life demonstrated to me in Edinburgh a couple of weeks ago.

I have long held the belief that as an industry we are not adapting quickly enough to the ways in which some clients, especially younger ones, will want to do business in the future. We all know that face-to-face advice is expensive and time-consuming. The recent air travel difficulties have emphasised this. How much time can you justify spending in an airport for a meeting that lasts just a few hours?

Yes, there are circumstances where you really do need to look someone in they eye but how often is that really the case?

During the past nine months, Scottish Life has complemented its traditional broker consultants with an additional team of advisers, based in its head office, who are able to provide a wide range or one-to-one support for advisers without either party needing to travel.

Since January, the com- pany has been piloting an interactive meeting service using its account manage-ment team. The team are like broker consultants who are always there when you want to speak to them, because they do not spend large amounts of their time travelling.

The service is being delivered using GoToMeeting (www.gotomeeting.com), a dedicated desktop messaging service that can operate via any PC connected to the internet.

To initiate a meeting, the account manager sends an email invitation to the adviser from their normal email account, the corporate version of GoToMeeting integrates Microsoft Outlook. The meeting can take place immediately or at an agreed time in the future. This will contain a URL link which the adviser then clicks on, which in turn generates a security screen asking the adviser to confirm that they want to download the software.

Having clicked on run, this takes seconds to install. It is worth noting that the software, known as an applet, will remove itself once the meeting session is complete.

Once the installation process is complete, immediately unless the user has a slow user connection, a window will open on the adviser’s PC. This will display the GoToMeeting viewer, in which will appear any material that the presenter wants to appear on the adviser screen.

Scottish Life operates the audio part of any meeting using landline calls – this avoids putting excessive stress on the bandwidth of an adviser’s system, although voice over internet protocol, which is not currently offered by GoToMeeting, would appear to be a natural evolution in time.

At this point, the Scott- ish Life consultant can start a meeting, talking the adviser through the material they want to discuss as if the consultant was in the adviser’s office. Included within the application are a number of mark-up tools to help in highlighting information in any presentation, such as a screen-based pen, a highlighter and even a spotlight – which some of the consultants told me is a feature that is very popular with IFAs.

In order to support an interactive discussion, the system allows the person presenting to pass control of the presentation over to other people within the meeting so they can use the illustration tools. This means that whatever is on the adviser’s screen can be shown to the Scottish Life consultant.

Via this process, participants can take control of computers at other locations involved in the meeting. This is ideal for helping advisers through difficult issues, such as registering for other e-commerce services or demonstrating how to use different software packages at the adviser’s end.

This system is enabling Scottish Life to reach large numbers of advisers to present some of their specialist products and services, such as the new Riley bond product and its Financial Adviser fee, far more quickly than would be practical if physical meetings were involved.

The service is also ideal for providing technical support on how to use provider extranets of client management systems. It can also help employers operate their group pension extranet for contribution processing new entrants or exits as well as increments.

The whole process lends itself very well to explaining how something works, then demonstrating how it works, before watching the adviser or employer use the system themselves. In addition, the service can be used to guide advisers or paraplanners through any difficulties they may be having with completing online applications, getting portal quotations or using best advice systems.

It also provides an ideal emergency fallback if conventional travel systems are experiencing difficulties. On August 10, the day that all UK airports went into meltdown, Scottish Life was due to present at a beauty parade for a very big group scheme. Flight cancellations made physical presence impossible but the whole meeting was successfully conducted as a result of GoToMeeting.

In addition to operating the GoToMeeting software, Scottish Life is also using Microsoft Messenger as a method of instant communication between members of the account management team and advisers.

Steve Illett of Leggatts Financial Services, which is based in the Scottish Highlands, feels that both services have made a major difference to the support that he received.

He says: “The messenger service makes it much easier to get to the people you want to when you need to and for them to be able to tell you how long it will take to respond to things. They can come back in seconds saying I will call you now or 20 minutes later depending on what else they are doing. Messenger is also invaluable for getting fast access to technical experts.”

Equally, he finds the GoToMeeting service so useful that his firm is considering using it for its own communication with clients.

Scottish Life continues to operate its traditional broker consultant force – the account management team has been put together to complement this, allowing advisers to choose the manner in which they interact with the company.

In addition, the company has 40 adviser technology support consultants which I believe to be the biggest team of dedicated technology consultants operated by any life office.

This is an excellent use of highly innovative technology to help advisers and their own staff maximise their productivity, and I can see massive application for the use of this technology across our industry and I agree entirely with Stephen Illett.

Why would adviser firms not conduct at least some client meetings in this way? How many clients could an adviser see in a day using GoToMeeting, as opposed to having to travel to each location?

With this technology, I believe it would be natural to question what extra is achieved by making a meeting face to face, so that advisers need only travel when meeting in person delivers real benefits.

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