Intermediary platforms are set for further growth and Adnitor estimates that £35bn of assets will move there over the next 12 months.
New entrants include several strong contenders, including Friends Provident, Axa and a revamped Skandia and Selestia combination.
Research suggests that the typical adviser will continue to take steps towards transforming their business through efficiencies realised through consolidation, platform tools and client segmentation. The movement towards fees will also continue where it is appropriate.
The views and needs of advisers were somewhat overlooked in the early stages of market development in favour of core transaction and wrapper capabilities but development is now taking shape with advisers’ business objectives in mind.
Platforms will need to continue to strive to understand the demands of adviser businesses, to deliver a solution that helps not only their immediate requirements but also supports their growth and development.
For an adviser to transform, they must have a consolidated, scalable technology-based solution at the heart of their business. For a platform to administer the volume of assets required to be profitable, they must be getting a high percentage of business electronically to realise the efficiencies of straight-through processing.
For the platform and adviser businesses to operate profitably, the technology solution needs to ensure there is a good connection between the businesses and that the overall user experience is slick, efficient and connected.
Assessing today’s platform front-end or internet offerings, we need to reflect on the events that have influenced their development so far.
Platforms, specifically the traditional view of wrap-style platforms, have been positioned by many as the “total solution” to provide a single facility for an adviser’s needs. The adviser’s expectation are generally that the platform will need to be as functionally rich as their own back office.
This has seen platforms develop a staggering array of tools, ranging from standard management information reports to notepad asset valuations, capital gains tax calculators, with-profits analysis, what-if scenario planning tools, etc, and this is set to expand.
But as the market continues to mature, an alternative is coming to the fore.
Recent market research suggests that advisers are now using a number of platforms to provide a solution for differing client needs and this is illustrated in more mature markets, such as Australia where, on average, two to three platforms are used.
But this issue may be clouded in the UK by the uncertainty over whole of market advice from a regulatory aspect and by the concerns of some advisers about being trapped without the ability to leave a platform easily.
Are platforms right in trying to accommodate every kind of financial planning tool? Recognising multiple platform usage and adviser demands, platforms are starting to focus on the integration of their solution with the tool suites available within adviser back-office systems.
At present, the flow of information is only in one direction – from platform to adviser back-office. However, strides are being made to build two-way links that enable the push and pull of client data between solutions. In time, this will provide the adviser with the greatest possible efficiencies and maximise the elusive STP model.
The platform providers’ focus on a more userorientated proposition, is reflective of a market that is now starting to enter a phase of rationalisation.
There will continue to be issues that require resolution, as well as the changing shifts in market focus and direction. The range of functionality and services is set to continue to grow and platforms will be faced with the additional challenge of how to present this informatively to the user.
As online tools deliver value-added services to the advisers, the increasing functionality will need to be integrated, to avoid any repetition of work.
Online help will become critical so users are not dep-endent on call centres. Flex-ibility and configuration to meet the adviser’s needs will become increasingly imp-ortant. This flexibility will focus on remuneration opt-ions and the supply of man-agement information as well as white-labelled solutions.
As platforms continue to rise to the challenge and jostle for position, it is important to acknowledge that within the melee of offerings, there are many success stories. Market responses in 2006 indicate that platforms are beginning to meet the requirements of the advice market.
In order to recognise these successes and to provide advisers with an opportunity to have their say, Adnitor has added a category to the Platform Awards Dinner which reflects advisers’ views on intermediary platforms.
The Usability, Design and Experience award is designed to recognise platforms with the best front-end offerings focusing on excellence in the field of web design, usability and online user experience.
In selecting an offering, advisers should give consideration to practice management and financial planning tools, online help, self servicing functionality, innovation, single keying, connectivity for placing transactions and flexibility.
Adnitor invites advisers to vote for their platform offering of choice. To register your vote you will need to visit www.whichplatform. com. Voting closes on Friday February 9.
The Adnitor Platform Awards dinner is taking place at the Cafe Royal in London on February 28. For more details, visit www.adnitor.com.