Running a successful IFA practice means ensuring your firm is run as efficiently as possible and making good use of technology can be a key part of this.
Though expensive for us at the time, we invested in the Adviser Office back-office system many years ago. We reasoned that it would save us having to employ another administrator at the time and it has proved to be a great investment.
Allowing all our staff access to up-to-date client information quickly and simply improved our efficiency and allowed us to give our clients an even better service. On the compliance side, the ability to record all client remuneration proved essential for completing our Gabriel returns.
The system was also a great help when it came to issuing clients the recent Her Majesty’s Revenue & Customs client notification letters. Another IFA complained this had taken his firm about 30 working hours to complete, but for ourselves, the whole process — with a mail merge from Adviser Office — took us just a couple of hours.
When we were moving offices we realised going paperless, via an all-singing, all-dancing scanner, would be much cheaper than paying rent for additional space required for all the filing cabinets we had accumulated.
We have become big fans of FE Analytics, which has proved its worth many times over, especially with its integration to Adviser Office. A click or two generates a detailed analysis of the client’s entire underlying pension and/or investment portfolio regardless of providers.
Not only does this look great to clients, it is also a great compliance tool, illustrating how the overall portfolio matches the client’s risk profile.
We have now started looking at the use of electronic signatures which were first recognised by the EU in 1999 and were implemented into UK law shortly afterwards.
This would be fairly easy for us to adopt for our own client paperwork, terms of business, etc. But the key advantage would be the ability to send providers’ paperwork to our clients via secure email, or online link, for them to check, electronically sign and return without any postal delays.
Having researched this, it seems this is one area where product providers are definitely letting everyone down. We spoke to over 20 providers but found a frightening lack of acceptance or even awareness of them. Only Aegon really understood what we were asking about and were willing to accept these.
The Prudential told us that they couldn’t accept electronic signatures, although I understand from separate research that it has recently started accepting electronic signatures for its Retirement Account.
In this day and age, and almost 20 years after electronic signatures became legal, it seems a little antiquated, to put it mildly, that most of the UK’s financial services industry still need the client to physically sign a bit of paper.
Unfortunately, without widespread provider acceptance of electronic signatures there appears little benefit of advisers introducing them. And until advisers start using them there is little incentive for providers to accept them. A classic catch 22.
Scott Gallacher is director of Rowley Turton