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No mere portal

Money Portal has become one of the biggest players in the IFA market in the last 18 months via an aggressive series of acquisitions that included Willis Owen and Bates Investment Services. As reported recently in Money Marketing, the company is negotiating a further round of funding and is in talks with nine more IFA firms.

Head of communications Kerry Nelson says: “We are building a one-stop shop for financial products. We have an extensive research team based in Leeds and give our clients access to our information and services in many ways. Some customers still opt for paper-based communication but we also have a significant web presence.

“In addition, for those customers who want a full advice service, we have over 50 advisers based all over the county within the Bates&#39 operation.”

Money Portal has retained the brands of the firms it has acquired to maintain continuity of the customer relationship. The combined businesses have over 150,000 clients, including 125,000 with the various discount broker brands and 25,000 within the Bates&#39 business. All clients can access details of their holdings online via a password-protected customer extranet.

The company launched its interactive web service three years ago under the HCF brand, which was used before it acquired Willis Owen, and 5,000 active users visit the site at least once a month.

Clients can view details of all the investments they have established via the Money Portal companies. As well as the initial amount invested and the current value, clients can look at the geographic make-up of their portfolio. They can also access Financial Express factsheets for each of the funds in their portfolio.

Later this year, this information will be complemented by Money Portal&#39s own research. Nelson says: “In our view, getting technology right is about focusing on what we need to deliver to the customer. Frequently, businesses become distracted by what different technology might do for them internally rather than the customer experience. In planning our services, we have prioritised the information that clients will want to see about their portfolios and their financial services generally.”

Clients can also submit details of other investments they would like shown in their portfolio by completing an online form. When this is received, clients are contacted by the company and given the option of providing a paper-based authority where the client fills in the details or of simply signing a pre-populated form. The latter can be generated using the Consolidation Assistant software from Cofunds, as featured in this column on March 4.

Values are updated daily by a price feed from Financial Express which is applied to the company&#39s core systems, supplied by Quay Software. The client can also see a full transaction history for the investment where this is available from the provider.

Head of IT and operations Clive Saffer is in no doubt about how the web service helps the company grow its business. He says: “Once we have people using the web-based service for just a couple of days, they invariably want to transfer all their holdings on to it.”

While Money Portal would obviously prefer to take over servicing rights for such other holdings, this is not mandatory and it will include any holding on which it can obtain a price feed.

At the heart of its systems, Money Portal uses the Client Care Desktop from Quay Software, together with the Online Client Service Centre which forms part of the Quay modular website package.

Quay has been selected as the core system supplier for all the businesses acquired by Money Portal. As part of the process, each firm is migrated to the Quay technology, with Bates being the latest to have moved on to the platform.

Software is delivered from a centralised data centre using Citrix over the internet. This removes the need to have servers in any of the offices and gives access to any of the data on the system, wherever the company wants it. Client portfolios are uploaded daily to the database which supports the Quay modular websites. This part of the service is hosted by Quay.

All documents received are scanned and attached to the client record using an Invu system, removing the need for any paper-based filing. Although all this information is maintained externally at the data centre, the speed of access is impressive, with copy documents being available in seconds.

Client holdings are populated to the system by various means, including a weekly feed from Cofunds. However, Saffer is less than complimentary about the quality of the data download that can be obtained from some providers, especially life and pension offices. While not prepared to name names, he points out that his company still has to have someone working full-time checking the data.

“We would really like to use them more but they are too inaccurate. The information provided cannot be relied on. There will be major fluctuations in what is included from month to month. If we did not carry out a manual validation on what we receive from providers, we would be running the risk of overwriting good data with bad,” says Saffer.

He is also critical of the fact that generally few fund managers are able to provide a full transaction history. He identifies this facility as one of the major strengths of the Cofunds&#39 platform and sees it as an essential requirement for wrap providers. He believes that fund managers should devote resources to making such information widely available as a matter of urgency.

To reduce manual overheads, a matching program is first run against the provider data feed and the Quay Software database that holds its own client records. The exception report generated is then followed up manually.

In the near future, Money Portal will be launching a service which will allow clients to re-register existing fund management assets via the web.

Money Portal is clearly having to expend significant energies in assembling the necessary information from providers to populate this service. Equally, once it has information that can be relied on, the underlying technology it employs will allow it to deploy a valuable service to customers and significantly grow the business at limited cost.


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