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New Life for IFAs

Few companies can claim to have been shortlisted for the Money Marketing award for best use of new media three years in a row. Scottish Life has exactly that distinction, having collected the full set of silver, gold and bronze awards in 1999, 2000 and 2001 respectively.

As I mentioned at the end of last year, when looking at what I hoped could be achieved for IFA technology during 2002, Scottish Life is certainly one of the more advanced offices when it comes to the services offered via its extranet. I recently had occasion to look in considerable detail at this service when preparing for a presentation it had asked me to give at its annual sales conference.

I had previously looked at its site in this column nearly a year ago when I focused on the interactive training tools it had put on its site to help IFAs learn how to use it. Since then, a number of other offices have followed its lead and added such tools. So it is no surprise then, that a couple of months ago Scottish Life added further facilities to keep them in the leading pack of life offices that are e-commerce-capable.

The new services revolve around delivering information to advisers on existing clients&#39 contracts, targeted at the group pension market.

These enable IFAs to get a wide range of up-to-date information on group schemes. To access the data, users log on to the IF@plus area within the www.scottishlife.co.uk website and then click on the existing client business area of the site. From this, you choose pension schemes from the menu. This will give a list of schemes in the agency associated with the IFA log-on details.

You then select the scheme you want information on and this will offer a further menu, from this you choose bulk data download. This allows users to identify the range of data they require for the scheme based on members&#39 date of birth.

You have to choose the type of information you want from six categories. First, there are basic scheme details, including scheme and employer name, scheme category and agent details. Then there are basic member details, sho-wing sex, date of birth, names, National Insurance and policy number details, general member information with joining dates for scheme, company and retirement, marital status, salary details waiver and AVC flags contracted out. Members&#39 addresses will give four lines of the member address plus postcode. Fund details will give details of investment instructions, unit holdings and values, date of valuation, AVC fund value and total fund value. Contribution details are given for emp-loyee and employer with frequency, single, DDS AVC premiums and transfer values shown.

Users can select any combination of the above six or select all. The service will ask for the format in which the data is required. This is offered in comma, tab and pipe separated values. Details are given on the IF@plus site of how to import and export each of the formats to Microsoft Excel and Access. Users who want to put the information into their own back-office system may need to speak to their IFA software house to get an import routine built. There is one exception to this, as Scottish Life can now supply data to IFA users of its system in a format agreed with the software house which users can then easily populate to its 1st database.

Once the download has been prepared, the IFA gets an email notification and returns to the site to download the data.

Previous downloads can be accessed for up to 30 days after they were originally provided, after which they are deleted from Scottish Life&#39s system

A further facility has been put in place for 1st Software users. Those with the latest version of their system can click on an icon within the software to create a request which is sent over the internet to Scottish Life. This navigates the life company&#39s security system, gets up-to-date valuation information and updates the client record within the 1st system.

I understand that Scottish Life is putting in place similar facilities with a number of other IFA software providers. Plum Software is the next software provider it expects to go live with the service.

The importance of this development should not be understated. XML valuations are widely believed to be the way that many IFA firms will, in time, be able to make considerable amounts of data available to clients over the internet.

It should not be forgotten that as long ago as summer 1999, 1st Software, working with Screenpages, was the first to enable IFAs to put information on clients&#39 holdings from their back-office systems on to their websites so clients could look up details of their investments.

This presently involves providing a regular download of data from the back-office system, supported by a price feed and populating this to the IFAs website. It is not difficult to see the potential to move these services into a real-time environment when more ins- urers have this ability.

If I do have a grouse, it is that the company has not followed up its excellent start with training tools and extended these to cover other areas of the site. However, Scottish Life tells me these are on the way, so this omission could be corr-ected soon.

Scottish Life is not alone in being able to offer this type of contract enquiry, many offices have bulk download facilities. 1st Software has created a similar real-time XML link with Prudential and similar bulk download of data, in its format, with Scottish Equitable and Skandia. As of last Friday, Skandia can now allow an IFA to download details of all its contracts in an agency via the 1st link.

Over time, providers will inevitably leapfrog each other in terms of the extent of services they offer. It is important that they launch such services as the capacity for cost savings allowed will only really be maximised once IFAs can get contract information on all products from all providers in this way.

There are others who are conspicuous by their absence at the leading edge of technology to help IFAs, especially in the area of valuation. It is important that life offices in such situations do all they can to address this situation. In the meantime, credit is due to Scottish Life for continuing to be among the leaders in this important area.

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 ianm@financialtechnology.net

Tel: 020 7863 0863

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