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Prepopulation explosion

One of the golden rules of e-commerce is that you have to make it easy to use for the customer. Businesses such as Amazon have thrived because they are so easy to use.

Making services easy is especially true when you are trying to persuade users who are less than enthusiastic adopters of technology – this includes a significant number of advisers – to change the way they work.

With the exceptions of firms such as Positive Solutions, Barclays and Home of Choice, the vast majority of advisers still choose to submit most of their business on paper.

The notable exception is the protection market, where electronic applications outnumber paper for the vast majority of transactions. Why do advisers submit complex underwritten applications electronically but fail to do so for simple investment business?

I believe the answer is that providers have not made it simple enough to make electronic applications attractive for pensions and investments.

In the case of protection business, electronic applications provide the obvious benefits of reduced processing time and getting the contract in force sooner.

For investment business, there is no equivalent benefit. It is normal for contract documentation to be issued promptly and contributions will normally start from a date selected with the client.

I believe the answer lies in making it so easy to submit electronic applications that paper no longer makes sense.

If an adviser uses an electronic fact-find to store a client’s details, this could be done either as part of the advice process or by an administrator entering data from a manual fact-find on to the system.

It should be possible to use this information to populate the vast majority of the information needed to obtain a client-specific key features document.

When the adviser wants to submit an electronic application, data can be populated to that application from both the fact-find and the key features illustration.

In this case, there will be virtually no additional information necessary to complete the application. Indeed, assuming that the key features have been generated to identify the exact funds that the client wants to invest in, the only extra information that could be needed would be the account to which withdrawals, if any, need to be made.

It is important to recognise that for this process to work properly, the portal, client management system provider and life company all need to play their part.

At present, the vast majority of so-called integrations between portals and client management systems carry forward the most basic of information and even this is normally just to populate the quotation, not the electronic application.

Barclays performed a major service for the whole industry when it persuaded providers involved in its select choice service to make their electronic applications capable of full prepopulation.

Focus Business Solutions, Barclays’ system provider, which also produces the Goal: Technology on which so many industry e-applications are based, had to carry out additional engineering on the electronic applications, known as Pacs which are available for any IFA to use. This means that any other adviser could benefit from the same excellent prepopulation capabilities as Barclays, provided that their chosen client management systems provider and portal also put in place the integration to take advantage of the functionality in the enhanced Pacs.

In the last few months, working with major adviser firms which take part in Adviser Forum, we have worked out a set of priorities for prepopulation.

This information has been widely distributed among all the advisers, life office and software providers that are forum members so they can enhance their systems based on these priorities.

Since last October, the volumes of applications submitted electronically via one of the major portals, AssureWeb, has doubled to around 5,000 a month.

Managing director Nigel Hopwood attributes much of this increase to the use of prepopulation.

He says: “The best use of new business is where there is integration with the client management software and you can then use prepopulation. Most of the significant increases in volumes we have seen are coming from accounts such as Barclays and Home of Choice, where this capability exists.”

It is great to see multi-tie accounts benefiting from prepopulation but we need to see the same functionality delivered to IFAs.

Over the next few months, Financial Technology Research Centre is inviting all the leading portals and client management systems to submit their systems for evaluation so we can assess the extent to which they are truly making e-new business easier for IFAs.

Provided that the ability to prepopulate quotations and applications by automatically reusing data is in place, it is also an ideal way to drive up the use of adviser client management systems as it will give the advisers greater incentive to enter the full fact-find data in the system in the first place.

Most such systems claim that data only needs to be entered once and can then be automatically reused across the system but I have seen this work to varying degrees of success.

By carrying out this analysis of the prepopulation capabilities of the different portals and client management system, I believe we can produce valuable guidance to help advisers identify the technology providers best able to meet advisers’ needs.

Implementing the above improvements to systems will make it possible to make it far more attractive for advisers to submit not just protection applications electronically but also investments and pensions. There is a growing body of evidence that prepopulation is delivering an explosion in electronic new business volumes among those advisers who have access to it.

The work does not stop here, however. The next step is to prioritise the information that should be populated back to advisers’ systems from providers, once electronic applications have been submitted.

By working together, product providers, client management systems providers and portals can create an environment where e-business can be easy business for advisers to transact. Once advisers have seen how much easier it can be to submit applications electronically, most would never want to go back to paper.

Readers wanting to discuss any of the issues raised in this article can contact Ian McKenna at ian.mckenna @ftrc.co.uk.

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