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Skandia to my art

It is no secret that I believe financial supermarkets represent the future of financial services.

So it was very interesting to spend some time recently with a life office that has quietly been operating what amounts to a financial supermarket in the UK for nearly 20 years.

This company is, of course, Skandia Life. While the focus of the work I was doing with the company was how it could take its e-commerce offering forward, it was impossible not to be impressed by what it has achieved already.

Skandia&#39s IFA extranet, launched last December, deals with over 25 per cent of the enquiries the company receives for valuations of existing contracts.

All its products can be accessed in this way with the exception of its Pep, Isa and Multi-fund products, which are to be added imminently.

As if this were not impressive enough, the site is also causing a major reduction in the level of paperwork created by Skandia in support of its immense range of fund links. Back in the days when I was still practising as an IFA, I recall the large volume of paper I received from Skandia each month by way of fund factsheets. You had to have large volumes of these highly time-sensitive documents in stock and, inevitably, at the end of each month, they had to be junked and replaced.

Thousands of such documents are now downloaded from Skandia&#39s site each month. Factsheets can be printed on demand rather than over-ordered in bulk.

Fund performance and the latest fund prices can be accessed by various criteria, including sector, fund manager, fund type, fund name, Sedol number and any of the categories used in Skandia&#39s excellent USelect asset allocation management package.

Five-year performance figures are always shown but figures can be generated to cover periods over one, three and six months and one, three and 10 years.

This can be done without having to enter any security code although the service will recognise whose computer is visiting the site and maintain automatically a list of preferred funds the user has chosen to include on comparisons.

An identical process is used to obtain the fund factsheets in Adobe Acrobat PDF format to minimise the time it takes to use the site.

Another nice touch is that you can choose to download either black and white or colour versions of the factsheets and, being in PDF format, they are easy to save to your local hard disk for reprinting. So, you only need to download the factsheets you want on a monthly basis rather than having to go online each time you want a factsheet.

Users of the site can download a vast amount of information about Skandia&#39s various fund management partners. Indeed, I would be surprised if you cannot download more information on some fund managers from the Skandia site than you can from their own web presence.

In terms of how fund managers can achieve economies, I cannot help but notice that the volume of valuations carried out over the Skandia site each month is greater than the total number of transactions published recently as having taken place over EMX since it launched.

The latest enhancements to Skandia&#39s service, launched in August, now allow IFAs not only to access an enhanced range of valuation services but to also carry out online switches of funds and redirection of new investments. Delivering such added-value services to IFAs is highly laudable but Skandia is one of the few offices that have already extended this to allow policyholders to access such facilities online.

I recognise that some IFAs may feel a little threatened by this but the way in which Skandia has implemented this important innovation can only be seen as totally supportive of the role of the IFA. Clients can only access these services if nominated by an adviser, allowing individual firms to take a view on how they feel about providing such client-facing access.

It is reasonable to expect more and more clients to be looking for such access to their investments, particularly as, with the launch of stakeholder, more and more people will be accessing their pension arrangements online.

Many of the facilities Skandia is currently offering are no different to those presently being offered by many other sites. However, it appears usage levels are far higher than I have generally been led to believe are the case elsewhere.

In respect of some services, such as the switch and redirection service and client extranet, the company has delivered what many others are currently working on or, in some cases, still only thinking about.

When you consider that there are still providers which have no dedicated IFA extranet at all, it makes me think some of the laggards are now getting so far behind leaders like Skandia that, increas-ingly, IFAs may have to avoid placing business with such companies because they are demonstrating an inability to meet modern service standards.

The usage referred to above only represents the valuations requested by IFAs as the client valuation service has only recently been launched. However, I doubt there are many life offices that can say they are experiencing such a significant level of use of their online services.

This is a clear indication that Skandia is delivering value to IFAs and I would certainly recommend any adviser who has not tried the service to spend some time looking at it.

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