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The pain of replatforming: Inside Aviva’s tumultuous tech upgrade

laptop with broken screen isolated on white backgroundAdvisers disillusioned by ongoing issues with Aviva’s replatforming project say they are reconsidering recommending the platform to clients.

Aviva moved clients to its new FNZ-backed platform in January, but the project has been beset with problems and advisers are still being frustrated by not being able to carry out key jobs for their clients.

Money Marketing has spoken to advisers and Aviva to hear how both sides are dealing with the ongoing problems two months on from the migration.

Trades and payments backfiring

The Aviva platform closed for a five-day black-out period at the end of January as clients were moved from the old Bravura-run platform to the new FNZ system.

However, advisers speaking to Money Marketing say they continue to face issues with completing trades and getting income payments for clients.

Payments to advisers have also either not been processed or paid unnecessarily, which has led to some IFAs having to reimburse Aviva for money they shouldn’t have received.

Facts and Figures Chartered Financial Planners director Simon Webster says ongoing issues for his firm relate to work for existing clients, rather than new business.

He says with Isa season approaching, more clients are asking to move out of collective investments into Isas, but trades are failing to complete.

Webster says: “That is unacceptable. If we get too close to the tax deadline and they haven’t gone through, clients could lose out on their tax break.”

Capital Ideas chartered financial planner Martin Fishburn says his work for clients has been disrupted by issues with printing client valuations or saving them to files.

He also says remuneration statements have not clarified which client they apply to, which means Fishburn cannot allocate them to client accounts.

Elsewhere, advisers say they have been getting payments from Aviva that were not due, which has led to them having to take time to correct the provider’s mistake and pay back the money.

Aviva timelineOne financial planner says Aviva paid them reconciliation fees when they were not due any, while Money Marketing understands some advisers have been paid an adviser charge, and then mistakenly a platform charge on top.

Plan Money director Peter Chadborn says a colleague who uses the Aviva platform has been wrongfully paid.

He says: “We received some ongoing adviser charge payments on a couple of cases where ongoing adviser charges were not included. We checked and the payments were not deducted from the clients’ investments so they were not disadvantaged but it was still an admin error, which meant we rightly had to return the payments that we should not have received.”

Advisers have expressed sincere disappointment at how let down they feel by Aviva, having been loyal to the platform and happy with the service they have had for many years.

MJS Willson & Co IFA Jamie Willson has made a complaint to the FCA saying it needs to step in to prevent any harm to clients and advisers.

Willson has also written to and emailed Aviva Insurance chief executive Andy Briggs with his concerns about the replatforming project.

A note to advisers sent two weeks after the client migration and signed by Briggs apologised for the “inconvenience and frustration” caused to them and their clients.

However, Willson has called for a further remediation response from the provider.

In a letter to the FCA complaints department, he says: “Aviva should be forced to set up a resolution unit with immediate effect and, where necessary, arrange for manual payments to be made to all clients whose income payments have stopped, those who are trying to cash in investments and to all advisers who are not being paid correctly as a result of this disastrous IT problem.”

While advisers are not hiding their frustration from Aviva, many of those speaking to Money Marketing say they have tried to shield their clients from any issues with the platform.

However, several say they will not continue to recommend Aviva to clients, at least in the short term.

Webster says it will be a while before his firm trusts the provider again.

He says: “We have got £30m on the Aviva platform and its future, as far as Aviva is concerned, is looking very shaky at the moment.”

Willson adds: “I definitely won’t be recommending Aviva in the future until this matter is fully resolved. I am appalled. If it wasn’t up and running on 22 January and they got it all resolved and working in two weeks you would have accepted it, but not two months.”

Two months of frustration

Speaking to Money Marketing shortly after the blackout period in January, Aviva platform chief executive Tim Orton said issues with “data mapping” delayed the initial migration of clients to the new platform.

Aviva also had the challenge of moving from one third party technology provider to another, which other platforms upgrading their technology do not have to contend with.

Because of that, Aviva brought in an external consultant to sit in the middle of the two technology competitors to give them assurance their data and information would remain confidential.

The Lang Cat consulting director Mike Barrett says: “That in itself created issues with how well you can get Bravura and FNZ to work together when they are competitive services and one is taking business from the other.”

Barrett says the scale of the Aviva platform was also going to be a challenge for the provider.

Recent sales data from the Lang Cat shows the Aviva platform has been performing well. In the fourth quarter of last year, net inflows onto the platform were £1.44bn, which ranked it second, according to the Lang Cat’s analysis.

As of 31 December 2017, just over 3,000 advice firms were using the Aviva platform with nearly 29,000 individual adviser users, according to Platforum. The number of end advised customers is just under 209,000.

As at the beginning of the fourth quarter, the platform had assets under administration of £20.1bn and in its 2017 results statement, Aviva said AUA on the platform had increased by 56 per cent over the year.

Barrett recognises communicating technical changes that occur through a replatforming project to a large number of advisers can have issues.

He says: “First, an audience of that size will be very hard to communicate with because you have got several thousand advisers using the system. Even if you throw all the resource in the world at this you will not get around to every single firm and be able to hand-hold them through the process and give them face-to-face support.”

Barrett says advisers need to take responsibility for understanding changes to their business that will happen through a replatforming exercise and not just rely on the provider. He says Cofunds advisers moving to the upgraded Aegon platform in May should already be preparing.

He says: “I would gently challenge advisers: did they do as much as they could do to prepare for this. Did they read all of the training material, did they understand the impact on their business?”

Aviva’s apology

Aviva platform boss Orton spoke to Money Marketing for this article and apologised for the issues advisers have experienced as a result of the replatforming project.

Asked why problems are ongoing two months after the blackout period, Orton says: “We know it has been extremely difficult for advisers and clients and we are really sorry for the inconvenience that has been caused as part of the exercise. Platforms are huge, complex systems with multiple functions and we are working really hard to work through the issues that have been raised.”

He adds: “We are working through things as quickly as we can to try and resolve everything that is raised. There are a number of areas that have been raised up to us. We have got a significant team around this working constructively with FNZ to resolve things as quickly as possible.

“It would be wrong for me to give you a specific date because we don’t want to stop the work until we are confident that everything that has been raised has been resolved.”

He explains Aviva has a corporate fund to pay clients for any trades that were not processed as a result of the replatforming project.

However, he did not have information on how much pre-funding had been paid out so far or how much had been set aside.

He says Aviva has mostly resolved the issues around adviser payments but did not have figures to hand to say how many advisers were under or overpaid and how much money Aviva has paid back or been reimbursed.

Aviva is prepared for potential compensation as a result of the replatforming delays and issues.

Orton says: “What we want to do is make sure all appropriate payments are made first of all. Where there has been distress and inconvenience caused we may also be making additional payments to customers in respect of that.”

Asked if he is aware advisers are considering not recommending the Aviva platform to their clients, Orton says: “I’m sure advisers will make appropriate advice recommendations for their clients.

“What we want to do is resolve things as quickly as possible so they can have confidence in us. We do know we have caused inconvenience and that is why we want to rebuild and resolve all of the issues we have found.”

Questioned on Aviva’s relationship is with FNZ and what assurances the technology company is giving Aviva it is working to resolve the replatforming issues, Orton says: “There are a number of factors that have caused the issues and we are working constructively with FNZ to resolve them as quickly as possible.”

FNZ was contacted for comment. A spokesman says: “FNZ’s policy is not to comment on issues impacting our customers or on specific customer projects. Rather, we refer you to the customers concerned.”

Expert view: Replatforming will hit many more firms

Platforum head of intermediary research Miranda Seath

Aviva migrated onto FNZ technology at the end of January. It has had a series of challenges and is still working through these. The areas that have caused advisers most concern are the platform’s inability to make income payments to clients, and problems around adviser fees being paid.

Advisers that we spoke to in February were critical of Aviva. One said: “There have been problems since January, when it replatformed. And they are not all resolved yet. We have problems with client access, problems with adviser access, issues with income payments and issues with adviser payments.”

Many platform users do not have relationship managers given Aviva’s low-cost, no-frills model. This has not caused problems in the past but advisers affected by replatforming challenges are vocal that the lack of a relationship manager is now an issue.

Another said: “I used to have a business development manager when I first went out on my own. I never got to see him, I just got him on the phone, but I didn’t really mind that. But then I got shoved in a basket with the masses, and I haven’t had anybody for a while, which is a problem.”

Aviva’s replatforming project is made more complex by the fact that it is moving to a new platform infrastructure that it is unfamiliar with. FNZ technology will also feel more complicated to users than the Bravura system that the platform was previously running on. Advisers that liked the simplicity of Aviva’s platform are finding it challenging to adapt.

“They’ve changed the platform over to make it compatible with the new Mifid II rules. So first of all, trying to find where stuff is, is a challenge. I have sort of found it, but I’ve been on the phone to Aviva because I can’t create client reports.”

Aviva acknowledges the gravity of its post-implementation issues and has launched the Aviva platform whiteboard to log all known platform issues and provide updates on the status and estimated fix date of problems.

The platform has adopted a policy of transparency and has worked hard to try to communicate as openly as possible with advisers through targeted communications and updates. And advisers are positive about the improvements promised on the new technology.

“What I believe is it will be for the future is very, very positive. The Mifid II reporting is a hell of a lot better than what we’ve seen anywhere else so far.”

This is a good start but Aviva’s experience underlines the complexities of replatforming as many other platforms queue up to make the transition this year.

Miranda Seath is research director at Platforum

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