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Palmtop rhapsody

Technology offers opportunities to spend more time developing mutually

profitable client relationships. A financial adviser&#39s briefcase used to be

weighed down with paper – notebook, diary and address book. Today, that

briefcase is more likely to contain communications technology equipment

that can handle most issues on the spot.

But what is a financial adviser looking to achieve from communications

technology apart from increased productivity?

One appropriate answer to this question might be “to profitably deliver an

appropriate service where, how and when it meets the client&#39s needs and to

develop a long-term mutually valuable client relationship from the office

or out in the field”.

What technology is needed or can be used to achieve this? Computers keep

on improving, enabling even the smallest practice to level the playing

field with big cor- porate competitors as far as presentation is concerned.

The modern PC&#39s data-processing capability enables a one-man band to play

as many and complex tunes as Queen at their best.

Most financial advisers, when in the field, use portable notebook PCs as

powerful as any desktop model, perhaps buying the best notebook they can

afford and docking it to a desktop monitor, keyboard and mouse when in the

office.

For a small practice, the additional cost of the notebook and docking

ancillaries may be less than the cost of separate computers for the office

and the field. The price of notebooks keeps falling. For example, the

Toshiba range (winner of PC World&#39s service and reliability survey in 1999)

starts below 1,500.

Palm-sized PCs (PPCs) and personal digital assistants (PDAs) are smaller

than notebooks but often pack as much power as last year&#39s desktop models.

Little bulkier than a pocket diary and a lot smaller than most address

books, they will do all that either of those paper systems can do as well

as carry database programs, create aide memoirs, brief notes or minutes,

draft or finalise copy letters, record and organise expenses, recall

details of past discussions or interrogate the database. Current models

will even hold audio notes.

The spreadsheets provided can handle most tasks. With versions of standard

software limited only in their additional features, not basic utilities,

these palmtops cost considerably less than a notebook (200-500 compared

with 1,500-4,000 for a notebook) and can easily transfer information and

files to or from a PC.

The latest PDA from Psion, the 5MX, really does carry a full-function but

limited-feature Microsoft-compatible word processor and spreadsheet in

addition to all the functions you would expect of an organiser. It has a

robust build and fully functional keyboard that make it ideal for use in

the field, with an inbuilt infrared communicator.

Psion&#39s Lesley Vaughan believes the big development of this year will be

the establishment of real-time interactivity enabling personal finance

professionals to access online data stores from anywhere at any time.

She singles out the capability to work with a client and then upload the

completed file to the product provider.

With technology, there is usually something new on the horizon. Toshiba UK

marketing manager Con Mellon says: “The most important development of the

coming year will be Bluetooth, a chip and set of standards developed by a

technology consortium, including Toshiba.

“Bluetooth will use radio frequency to enable any device to communicate

with any other device. Notebooks, palm-sizes, telephones, printers, faxes,

even scanners and scanner pens, if equipped with a Bluetooth chip, will be

able to communicate not only without wires but also without having to be

pointed at each other as required by infra red.”

Some useful applications will include only having to enter contact details

into one device and then sharing it with others as well as being able to,

say, send an email from a PDA through a cellphone without having to take

the phone out of a briefcase.

Perhaps the technology device that has impacted most on IT been the modem,

combining computers and telephones into the most powerful business utility

ever.

Telecommunications has undergone great changes. The cellphone is the

latest generation of telecommunications equipment and is already evolving

from the mobile phone to the all-purpose IT/CT communicator.

A common model such as the Nokia 5110 is tough, practical, can store up to

250 names with telephone numbers and can send and receive text messages. It

will link to a computer via a suitable modem or connect a PDA or PPC user

with the internet to send and receive email, search for information,

retrieve data from a product provider&#39s extranet or simply check up on how

work is progressing back at the office.

It can even double up as a calculator so that, when combined with a

notebook or palmtop computer, the whole lot creates a virtual office that

can be pocket sized – just – but certainly fits into a briefcase with space

to spare.

The Nokia 7110 is one of a new generation of palm-size internet phones.

Using wireless applications protocol, these new devices will allow users to

browse the web, send and receive email, use online services such as quotes

and all the other services that the internet can offer.

Financial advisers out in the field can use this type of equipment to deal

with any processing or queries – even refer in real time to an underwriter

or colleagues sharing a web conference, such as FinServ UK.

Using the latest technology, the financial adviser in the field can answer

questions that may be asked by underwriters and send visual material and

documents to the product provider for examination.

A scanning pen such as the C-Pen 200 (175) can capture a document to

create a file for emailing or faxing to whoever needs to read it and for

storing with other client records.

New computers, including palmtops, have write-on screens that can be drawn

on just like paper to illustrate a point, create a plan, file it or send

it off by email or fax.

In fact, there is little that can be done face to face or via Royal Mail

that today&#39s IT and CT equipment cannot achieve almost instantly. It is not

just speed for speed&#39s sake. Clients expect instant answers even when the

financial adviser is sitting in the middle of an office with them.

Technology has made that expectation a reality. With ever tightening

margins, if a client&#39s financial planning needs can be properly met, best

practice adhered to and high-quality records generated as part of the

advice process, even in the field, advisers will be able to maintain

activity at viable levels.

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