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Positively charged

It is some 18 months since I last looked in this column at the technology being used by Positive Solutions. In this time the firm&#39s registered individuals have more than doubled to over 500. It was no surprise to me last March when the company won the Money Marketing Award for the best use of technology by an IFA.

A couple of weeks ago, I went to Positive Solutions head office in Newcastle to take a look at the latest version of its software. It would be an understatement to be impressed. When I last looked at its system, it had the facility to allow advisers online access to a central record of all their clients&#39 policies from 15 life offices, updated on a monthly basis. The service also allowed all clients to access their own information via an extranet.

No other organisation has yet been able to show me a similar facility. With a clear position as one of the market-leading IFA firms in the use of technology, it would be forgivable if Positive Solutions had not pushed forward quite as aggressively in the development of its systems. This is far from the case.

The previous Fact Find system has been replaced by a full electronic business submission system. The previous Fairs back-office system has been replaced by a new purpose-built SQL-based system.

The business submission system is designed to be used in front of clients. Recognising that most advisers lack typing skills, it is based on drop-down lists to keep the amount of data that has to be typed to a minimum.

This is how advisers submit new business cases to head office, with the electronic files being submitted as an encrypted zip file using Outlook 97. This includes a summary of recommendations substantially generated from the information already entered by the adviser into the electronic fact-find software on the member laptop that is provided at no additional charge to all Positive Solutions&#39 registered individuals.

The system now also includes a highly automated reasons-why letter generator, again substantially based on the information already entered in the adviser&#39s system. When the data is received, it transfers directly to the head office system without the need for re-keying.

Positive Solutions Extranet maintains a record of all adviser pipeline cases, with full notes on the latest action taken by the head office admin team. The company is also encouraging providers to send everything to them electronically wherever possible.

The new back-office system has made good use of the existing EDI commission standards. I was shown a 500-item commission statement being processed electronically in 45 seconds. This allows them to make same-day commission payments. On average, the company issues 500 commission settlements to advisers each day.

Unfortunately, because of the way in which some life offices have chosen to implement these standards, it has not been possible to remove paper from the system completely. It has been a common complaint from advisers and software companies that standards are something that insurers seek to make mandatory upon everyone else but optional for themselves.

In this instance, the fact that some key information such as contract type is not provided as mandatory within the electronic message means that for resolving queries it is still necessary for the IFA to receive paper-based statements. The irony is that because they are not implementing standards as fully as they might, the insurers are undermining their own efforts to reduce costs since the old paper commission statement still has to be produced, undermining the cost saving they could achieve.

There is an important message here for life offices about the way in which they integrate Origo standards.

Positive Solutions has also made significant progress with the use of the industry electronic new business system. From a standing start at the beginning of June, by early July around 10 per cent of applications were being processed in this way. It is worth bearing in mind that the service really only has anything approaching widespread product coverage for bond business. A series of roadshows are under way to demonstrate to members how to use the PAC-type systems and this is delivering significant results.

Overall, what really impressed me about Positive Solutions&#39 set-up is the way that it has technology at the core of everything, not only to keep down costs but also to provide a high-quality service to advisers and clients.

At a time when other network organisations are talking of introducing charges of hundreds of pounds a month just for software, Positive Solutions must be on the short list for any network member looking for a new home.

In the run-up to depolarisation, there will no doubt be many institutions which take a long look at how they set up their own multi-channel distribution. They could find a trip to Newcastle a worthwhile investment.

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