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Plus adds up the sums

Few companies have as consistent a record when it comes to delivering e-commerce services for IFAs as Scottish Life. Over the last few months, the company has made some significant enhancements to its IF@plus.

Over the past couple of years, there have been two key drives in industry e-commerce, the first based on new business and the second on delivering valuation information on existing contracts to advisers electronically.

At the same time, it always seems to me that there is tremendous waste in our industry because it can take so long for product providers to deliver the necessary additional information and particularly the key features document when a client wants to add to an existing plan.

FSA conduct of business rules require that where a contract is “materially altered”, the client must be provided with a new key features document as soon as practical.

Guidance note 6.2.15 states that a contract is not materially altered if contributions are increased by less than 25 per cent and other terms, conditions and charges do not change. In other words, everything else needs a new key features document.

I constantly hear horror stories of such documentation for increments taking weeks or even months, yet the number of services that can use e-commerce to fulfil this important function for existing plans is limited.

One of the major advocates of using technology to fill this gap is Woolwich-based IFA Sedgwick commercial development director Alan Keegan. His organisation has made an exceptional contribution to the enhancement of industry e-commerce during the past year, especially with the deployment of its Smart platform developed with Oracle.

According to Keegan, increments are “the natural point where the new business and servicing process meet, there must be massive savings for the industry if we can process these electronically”.

Last week, I was given a demonstration of a new service which will go live from December 16, initially for group business but shortly for individual pension cases that will automate increment process via Scottish Life&#39s website.

Advisers can access details of a client&#39s existing scheme including current contribution, salary details, etc and produce what-if illustrations to identify potential shortfalls in retirement income.

Once the level of increment is agreed with the client, all the necessary documents are prepopulated from the existing information held by the system. Depending on the level of the increment, all the appropriate compliance documentation and key features will be generated automatically.

Understanding the importance of IFAs being able to drive such work from within their own back-office system, Scottish Life is already working to integrate this facility with back-office system providers.

Once the service goes live, it might well be worth IFAs specifically looking at the opportunities for them to conduct marketing campaigns based on existing Scottish Life schemes where this new process will enable everyone to operate more efficiently.

Another important addition in recent months has been the Technical-Central service. This can be accessed via IF@plus and can also be found direct at www.technical-central.co.uk.

Essentially, this is an online repository for a wealth of technical information about pensions and other key issues. It is an ideal use of web technology as it enables users to access key statistics from a single source. The demonstration services for Scottish Life&#39s online tools, such as the increment service mentioned above, have now been moved into this area.

How many times have you found yourself searching for key technical information long after all the normal helpdesks have closed?

Many life offices have significantly enhanced their market share by providing quality helpdesk services to IFAs and putting such facilities online is a very natural evolution.

Technical-Central is divided up into areas. The reference section allows access to a range of factsheets on subjects such as personal pension



retirement annuity, AVCs



FSAVCs, personal pensions



section 32s and frequently asked questions with an extensive summary of technical facts and figures on personal pensions/stakeholder, occupational schemes and retirement annuities.

Under a separate facts and figures section, there are tables on a wider range of issues such as tax rates, statutory sick pay and incapacity benefit and fixed-rate GMP revaluation to name just three.

The analysis section provides more detailed summaries on issues such as pensions and divorce, transfers and IR35. If you want to know when certain changes took effect, the pension timeline provides a valuable summary of key changes in rules and regulations going back to 1961.

The one subject I found under-represented was information on executive pensions, presumably this will be attended to in the near future.

This area of the site does not sit behind the password-protected area so you can access the information even if travelling or from a client&#39s PC on site if you do not have your Scottish Life password to hand. Such is the wealth of information in this area that I would not be at all surprised if a few staff from other life offices were using it for the odd quick technical update themselves. For just about anyone in the industry, Technical Central is well worth adding to your favourites list in your browser.

There is an interactive forum where IFAs can pose questions and exchange views with Scottish Life&#39s technical team, although that is behind the security-protected area.

No summary about Scottish Life would be complete without some reference to the excellent work done by Steve Bee. Not content with playing an active and constructive role in the lobbying process over pensions and touring the country on a regular basis to make thousands of IFAs aware of the latest up and coming issues on pensions, Steve now has a very active area within IF@plus.

Know as Beehive, this includes downloadable versions of Steve&#39s various commentaries on industry issues, known as Beelines. Copies of his responses to various political papers such as Pickering and press articles and a cartoon gallery. The latter is well worth a look, especially the Dancing Steve animation which shows that while he is an expert in a dry subject, Bee clearly does not take himself too seriously.

This year has been a challenging one for industry technology and next year looks certain to be more so. I am off to chill out and prepare for a challenging 2003.

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