Although it now seems a lifetime ago, Standard Life was one of the very first life offices to offer a dedicated adviser extranet service and I believe the very first to offer IFAs access to client data online.
When I was recently offered an advance preview of what the company believes is the first of the next generation of adviser extranets, the invitation had a lot to live up to.
The driver behind the project – part of a £20m budget for IFA technology development during 2011 – is a service that focuses on making life easier for all users but especially for the administrators and paraplanners who are so crucial to the successful operation of an adviser business.
The site allows each user to plan the layout of their homepage and put the information sources they use most where they can access them easily.
The new Adviser zone is designed to reduce the amount of time needed to access information and services and includes a range of different sections as outlined below.
The Investment centre provides information on fund ranges, prices and factsheets, alongside a fund filter tool. The tool has been introduced to identify which funds can be used with virtually all the current and legacy Standard Life products. Some go back to 1979, when the company offered unit-linked products for the first time.
It also lets advisers create a list of their favourite funds. A What do you want to do next? list can be used to analyse the portfolio, although it will be used to populate a range of add- itional services in future.
Tech zone will be well known to many advisers and offers a library of technical information that is available 24 hours a day. I am told this is one of the most frequented areas of the current site. The information is generic and covers a wide range of pensions, investment and taxation issues.
The Developing my business function is focused on issues surrounding treating customers fairly but will be developed later this year.
My favourite literature allows the adviser to select the literature types they use most often. Items selected as favourites have a yellow star next to them whenever they appear subsequently.
The idea is to allow IFAs to keep all their most used literature in one place and remove the need of navigating to documents individually each time they are required. A My favourite fund section works in the same way and creates a list of regularly used funds with their prices, daily change and factsheets readily available.
A Propositions zone covers the various Standard Life products and what they have to offer. It brings together conventional packaged products, the fund supermarket-type propositions such as mutual funds, fund zone and sigma, as well as the Standard Life wrap. This reveals an interesting insight into what future direction Standard Life will take as an organisation and provides propositions in each of these key areas to meet the varying tastes of different adviser businesses.
It is clear that the site is being designed to follow the natural workflow of an adviser. What do you want to do next? provides the option to get a quote, submit new business, launch a client view, complete a risk questionnaire or plan and analyse a portfolio.
The frequent recurrence of What do you want to do next? as a message shows the designers are really trying to understand how advisers can use the site to make their lives easier.
The Online services area provides a range of options for research and planning, new business and servicing and multi-client services, such as bulk data download, commission services and bulk pipeline tracking.
The one thing I would change on the site is the amount of prime space on the homepage given to marketing messages and Standard Life news. This probably takes up 70 per cent of the space when entering the site. I know companies like to get their marketing messages across but for a site so focused on helping to do business efficiently, it is wasteful to see too much space used in this way.
Standard Life is at pains to point out that what it is currently offering is the first step to delivering a framework into which it will place a considerable amount of content as the year progresses.
Advisers wanting to understand further what direction this service will take should persuade their account managers to share the company’s Adviser Platform Proposition document with them, as this explains Standard’s journey through 2011 and beyond.
It puts in the public domain a commitment to deliver services in ways not normally seen from providers. It would be refreshing to see more organisations make such a public commitment to the delivery of services and I would like to see other providers being so upfront about their plans.
There is much more that will be added to the site but there is an imp- ressive amount of content already available.
Based on my experience of spending 10 to 20 min- utes exploring, it would seem that personalising your Adviser zone homepage would be time well spent for anyone at an adviser firm who deals with the company on a regular basis.
Ian McKenna is director of the Finance & Technology Research Centre