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Tales from the encrypt

Over the last couple of columns, I have looked at the overall state of the IFA software market and how advisers should approach selecting the right system for their individual needs. This week, I want to look at what appears to me to be the fastest-evolving system in the market. It is one which should be considered in detail by any organisation looking to prepare for the challenges of the post-RDR market.

From figures shown to me recently, I believe the True Potential system has now become the fastest-growing system in the market in terms of increasing market share. This was achieved even before the release of its latest version of the software in August and its new link to the iPhone, to which I was given an exclusive preview a couple of weeks ago. The new version is very impressive and adds considerably to the existing offering.

I have previously written about the quality of the firm’s support for treating customers fairly (Money Marketing, June 19). Apparently, I am not the only person with such views. The company recently shared with me a copy of a letter written to a True Potential user by the FSA following a recent TCF assessment. This commented: “You were able to give numerous examples of measures you have taken to ensure that TCF is evident across all areas of your firm’s activity – perhaps the best one being the introduction of your True Potential software package”.

I see this as really positive from a number of perspectives. It is great to see the FSA giving credit to an adviser firm that has clearly made a significant effort to address the requirements of treating customers fairly. We have heard a lot about TCF being used as a stick to beat advisers with and it is great to hear the subject in a positive light.

The major changes delivered in the new release include significant enhancements to the individual client websites that the product provides to each of an adviser’s clients. These allow consumers to look in various levels of granularity at their invest- ment valuations.

The initial view gives the customer an overall snapshot of their wealth, identifying assets at a generic level. This can then drill down at a product level to show individual contracts and, subject to the information being available from the providers, display the funds in each contract and the respective holdings.

In addition, the service allows clients to view their overall asset allocation as well as reviewing and making changes to their fact-finds online. Any information changed by the client in this way is automatically flagged to the adviser as a workflow item and recorded in the client management system.

The question of how to communicate securely with clients electronically is currently a major issue. In my experience, far too many adviser firms are not fully recognising the obligations the Data Protection Act places on them to ensure that all communications are secure and email seems to be the major weakness for most firms.

There is considerable pressure being brought to bear to suggest that the industry should go down an encryption route but, from my research so far, this seems to present at least as many problems as it solves and I strongly suspect that if the industry does take the encryption route for all email, we will spend many decades regretting it.

The most obvious people to provide an adviser with a solution to the challenge of how to communicate securely with clients is their client management software provider and, as part of the client extranet solution, True Potential has delivered the most elegant solution I have seen so far.

As part of the proposition, advisers and clients can send each other emails securely, with attachments and, when the communications are exchanged in this way, the entire dialogue is recorded against the client record for future use in any relevant adviser processes, including TCF and workflow.

As the communication is achieved in a secure environment, there is no need to encrypt the contents and therefore no need to worry about any problems in decrypting a document at any stage in the future.

As if all the above were not enough, the full X-ray of the portfolio is available (that is, valuations of all products and ability to drill down into actual fund detail, together with historical charts which allow users to drill down into fund detail) and can also be accessed as an application over the iPhone. This service is live now, although at the time of writing is waiting final release from Apple via the app store.

This is the first time that I have seen an IFA software application which can give clients so much information over this vastly popular mobile phone platform.

In my experience, users love their iPhones and this will be a very powerful client-servicing tool for users. I understand similar services for Blackberry and other devices are due to be rolled out in the coming months.

Admittedly, True Potential operates a very different business model to most software providers. It charges the adviser a percentage of the revenue delivered via the system. This is available either as a technology-only offering, or as part of the True Potential Support services.

This may make it rather more complicated for firms to make a direct comparison with more traditional software suppliers but, given that the system delivers on so many of the important challenges to advisers I believe that any review of possible suppliers to an adviser firm is not complete without a thorough examination of what True Potential has to offer.

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