Since the introduction of basic computer technology into IFAs' offices, there are those who believe that technology delivers far less than it promises.
This begs a very good question. If the experts claim they can make processes easier, faster, smaller or more foolproof, why do some advisers still seem reluctant to adopt them? Could it be that the technology providers are guilty of focusing too much on the bigger picture?
There does seem to be an emphasis on providing revolution rather than evolution. Is today's IFA missing out by not jumping on the technology bandwagon?
To be fair, the reality probably lies somewhere in bet-ween. There are a significant number of IFAs which have embraced technological imp-rovements and changed their working practices to accommodate the “new” way of doing business. Those that have done so have benefited enormously from improved efficiency and enhanced margins as a result.
But what is wrong with the old-fashioned ways and why should you think “new technology”? Well, the product providers are not stupid. You may find the technology mind-boggling but do not be frightened by something that looks 22nd Century. Remember that what looks futuristic now may become an everyday reality a lot quicker than you think.
Providers know you are more likely to accept technology that adds immediate value to your business so that is where they tend to concentrate their efforts. After all, if your investment in systems looks set to pay back immediately, you are far more likely to buy again.
This strategy seems to be paying off and we can see technology already supporting key parts of the IFA sales process.
For instance, the launch of web-based product research tools such as Sesame's e-RPL and Aequos Online from Defaqto enable advisers to research the companies and products they recommend to their clients in a much more efficient way. They provide instant, accurate and up-to-date information on hundreds of products and providers which serve the intermediary market.
Such tools allow you to search, view and compare all the products available and enable users to reject products or providers which do not meet the criteria of your client.
Despite the advances in electronic trading, most advisers tend to use technology only for getting comparative quotes. The process of getting an online quote from a portal such as Assureweb can save a substantial amount of time and hassle. It provides one of the clearest examples of how valuable technology can be to a willing user but why stop at getting a simple comparison quote?
Some portals are simply comparative quote engines, forcing you then to contact the provider to get a client ill-ustration. But Assureweb also allows users to refine all the quotes from all the providers.
This gives you the flexibility to use additional or unique benefits or options, split the sum assured, terms and benefits between lives or even select a different commission rate.
For multi-benefit protection products, this is a vital part of the research process and getting this electronically prevents you from having to contact a provider direct for what is commonly called the “proper quote”.
It is also possible to reuse the data you have entered in a back-office system such as Adviser Office, Quay or Plum or from the comparison quote, saving you considerable time that you can then spend on advising clients.
Once you have selected your provider and refined your quote, you can then print a fully compliant, accurate and personalised illustration. There is absolutely no reason to contact the provider direct.
Supporting product documentation can also be acc-essed, saving you the time and effort of contacting your chosen provider for the paperwork to present to clients.
The major growth area in technology terms has to be electronic applications. The level of business being undertaken in this manner has increased substantially of late.
Many IFAs see the future of their business revolving around the online submission of new business application forms directly to providers and the industry is responding favourably to this particular breakthrough, with some firms offering instant cover for the majority of protection applications submitted.
But electronic trading is not just a time-saving device. Consider the example of one big IFA. Prior to adopting a system of electronic applications, around 40 per cent of the applications it submitted to providers were returned because of missing or inaccurate information.
As it is very difficult to submit an electronic application incorrectly to providers, the IFA reduced the proportion of returned applications to just 9 per cent and some firms manage even better. Think of the saving that represents over the course of a year.
Another advantage of using an e-based system is that you can bypass the backlogs in the processing centres as most providers have a fast-track system, with electronic submissions being dealt with first. By taking full adv-antage of electronic applications, you simply jump to the front of what is often a very long queue.
Nobody is denying that there are still issues to overcome before electronic submission is widely accepted by IFAs. Despite the strong words of encouragement from providers, there are still not enough incentives for IFAs to use the new services.
This means that some advisers are still reluctant to make that quantum leap and change the way they do their business. There are signs, however, that this is chang-ing with the introduction of exclusive electronic-only products from companies such as Legal & General offering imp-roved terms both for IFAs and their clients.
Once these products bec-ome more widely available and IFAs can submit applications for the majority of products to most providers, it is widely expected that most IFAs will want to change their business practices and pro-cesses for good.
Technology is delivering, maybe not at the pace some would like but it is definitely delivering. As many advisers have already realised, it is not just the early-adopter techies which are reaping the benefits of a new way of working.