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Set your sites high

I have recently been contacted by a whole host of organisations which are

setting up services to help IFAs in developing a web presence.

I will be examining some of these in more detail on this page in the near

future. This week, I would like to look at some of the key issues IFAs

should be considering when planning their web presence.

First, I believe wholeheartedly that working with web specialists is the

right way to go for the vast majority of IFAs.

If anyone really wants to design and build their own website from start to

finish, I suggest they start taking courses in the various web programming

languages and then look for a full-time job as a programmer. Such skills

are in high demand so they might find it lucrative.

As any IFA will recognise, financial advice is a complex subject and those

who take a DIY approach all too often come unstuck. The same is true of

producing websites.

Gone are the days when you could just build a few static web pages and

expect to get enquiries.

Websites today have to deliver real value to the user. They need to help

existing and prospective clients find information in a personalised manner

quicker than they would using more conventional means.

Why take ages trying to build your own site or paying a local developer to

do so as a one-off when you can take advantage of the economy of scale

offered by organisations specialising in IFA website production?

To create full-blown e-commerce sites, IFAs should be considering

providing full comparative quotation services. In this area, a relatively

small number of organisations are likely to be able to meet your needs.

In the life and pension market, only those who have, or are putting

together, business to-business versions of the same services, such as

AssureWeb, CMG, and The Exchange, are likely to be able to really fill this

need.

Misys will presumably launch something in due course. Product research

database providers such as Synaptic and The Research Department may equally

have much to offer.

In the mortgage area, there is a wider choice, not least because there

have been more comparative services established for longer.

In the US, online mortgages seem to be the second major area after share

dealing to witness substantial consu- mer adoption.

The move to e-commerce is creating a whole new range of players in the

financial services market from very different backgrounds and a fresh

approach to making finan- cial services interesting to the consumer.

Probably the best example of this is www.thedeal.net. This is presented to

the consumer as a lifestyle magazine and is clearly targeted at the young

professional with a high disposable income.

It is full of information on things that will be of interest to this

market. As the site says, film, food, fashion, going out and gigs,

interviews with stars, cars, bars and much more are all in there.

What is also included under an area called Mortgage Shop is a mortgage

quotation engine offering a full market range of lenders.

This allows users to source, compare, select and apply for a range of

mortgages online, with back-up from a call centre to process the cases.

The Money Tools area includes a range of personal finance calculators

primarily designed around promoting mortgage services but there are also

tools to deal with other needs such as utility bill calculators.

A newsfeed is also provided, covering latest information on business and

finance, mortgages, currency rates, interest rates and stockmarket issues.

This is, in fact, a feed from the NewsNow service. I suspect thedeal.net

might be well advised to review the way the information is filtered as I am

not too sure how many of its UK-based users are really going to be

interested in stories from publications in the Indian sub-continent which

were fairly prevalent when I used the service.

News Now (www.newsnow. co.uk) offers a range of newsfeed services for

between £90 to £150 a month depending on the extent to which the customer

wants to tailor the information provided. This is certainly a service worth

considering if you want this sort of content.

Thedeal.net presents financial services in a way which makes conventional

personal finance sites look boring. It surrounds what is essentially an

e-mortgage broking site with a range of information its target market will

clearly find more interesting.

The site may not be functional in the true mortgage sense as services such

as Charcol online or the new netmortgage service launched by Savills

Personal Finance.

However, I am in no doubt the target market would be far more inclined to

return to thedeal rather than either of the sites created by the mortgage

specialists because it is so much more interesting. This service deals

solely with the non-regulated side of the business. All requests for

investment advice are being referred to Aetas, the national IFA of

Countrywide.

Developing the service has not been a cheap task. Managing director Adrian

Moss points out that the company has already spent £1.4m and is currently

raising substantially more via venture capitalists. Moss also believes

collation of the specialist mortgage data is not a task to run in house.

While declining to name its data supplier, he says this is a

labour-intensive job best left to a specialist.

Putting together a good financial services website must be all about

adding value for a user as soon as they hit your site. If you get this

right, a site should prove a valuable source of new clients.

Clicks and advice is a powerful proposition based on the more information

you give people the more they need help. The more you have pre-educated

them, the more efficiently you should be able to deal with the enquiries

when they are received.

In looking for a web development partner, I believe it is essential that

IFAs look for the partners who can deliver the full range of services they

need. The number who can pass this test will be limited.

Ian McKenna is a consultant and director of The Financial Technology

Centre. He can be contacted by email at: IanMcKenna@MSN.com Tel: 0207-359

5656

Fax: 0207-359 2858

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