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[Technology] A fair exchange

Over two-thirds of 100 IFAs polled at the eXcom conference in October said the most important objective of using technology was to deliver improved levels of service to their clients. The Exchange&#39s role over the past 10 years has been to develop products and services that enable them to do so and this remains our commitment today.

Independence is key to our proposition. We are
the only independent portal operating in the IFA market and we believe this is crucial in attracting product providers to populate our service, giving us the most complete offering available to IFAs.

The result? We have grown our user base to include 14,600 subscribing IFAs, around 90 per cent of IFA firms in the UK, generating over 60 million quotations a year.

Our core service, exchange, is a dedicated extranet service offering intermediaries comparative quotes, compliant documentation, a wide range of product research tools, new business services, email and internet access. In five product areas – life, health, pensions, mortgages and investments – we work with almost 300 product providers, giving IFAs access to over 6,000 products.

Our exchange portal is divided into the five product areas to make it clear and easy to use. For each product area, we provide immediate access to comparative quotations, product databanks and a tail ored news service. Intermediaries can also review client transactions, save quotes, access document libraries and link through to related services and product providers.

We believe that our service is very cost-effective. For £14 a month, subscribing users have unlimited use of our core quotations and new business services, with a small additional charge of between £6 and £9 a month for some of the product databanks. The charges for the AdviserNet Web Builder tools depend on the level of service required but range from £22 a month for the bronze service to £34 a month for the silver service and upwards of £65 a month for the gold service, depending on the kind of website the IFA wants. There may also be a set-up charge for the gold service, depending on the scale of the project The Easitrade packages also incur a cost but again they are bespoke solutions and are costed accordingly.

We operate in a highly competitive market and a number of recent developments show we are committed to developing services that can add value to an IFA&#39s business.

In September, we enabled IFAs to transact business direct with product providers using the Origo common internet trading standards. In partnership with Legal & General, we developed our new business service to enable IFAs to submit with-profits bond applications online. This service now works directly with L&G, Norwich Union and Friends Provident and we have plans to add another six providers shortly.

This is the first step in providing all intermediaries with common internet trading standards upon which to transact business direct to providers. In the long term, using common protocols will be the most effective way of reducing costs, saving time and improving client service.

Through exchange, IFAs can also get direct access to Fidelity&#39s fund supermarket, FundsNetwork. This gives them immediate online access to more than 400 funds from 23 of the UK&#39s leading investment providers, enabling their own clients to build a diversified Isa portfolio in one centralised account.

IFAs can use this service to monitor their client&#39s portfolio through the client management service, provide their clients with consolidated, up-to-date online valuations and receive consolidated commission payments and statements.

There is much more to come. Our most popular quotation service is for term insurance where, on average, we provide 200,000 quotes per day. To build on this demand, we are working with Legal & General to develop a fully electronic term product which will offer enhanced commission for IFAs and better terms for its clients.

A website is bec om ing one of the core elements of customer service. Our AdviserNet Web Builder (AWB) product ena bles intermediaries to build and maintain their own professionally designed web presence at low cost. IFAs have the flexibility to choose their own site design and have 24 hour control over content by accessing AWB through the exc hange portal.

The most recent development on our AWB service allows IFAs to build in a “hotlink” to Fidelity&#39s FundsNetwork directly to their site. This allows their clients to benefit directly from the funds supermarket.

We can also help IFAs develop their own existing websites. Our Easitrade package allows IFAs to white-label a comprehensive range of comparative quotation services and document libraries on their own websites for use by consumers.

Easitrade provides added functionality that allows the consumer to view and print product and client specific key features documents, blank proposal forms and other provider specific sales literature from the IFA&#39s website. The service has a referral facility allowing the consumer to seek advice at key stages during the online process and offers the IFA further opportunity to cross sell other services and financial products.

At all stages of product development, we consult with IFAs and provide a dedicated team of over 30 customer care staff to help IFAs with any technical problem free of charge. Eighty-five per cent of queries are resolved immediately by the person taking the initial call and this year average wait times in our customer care call centre have reduced by 75 per cent compared with the end of last year.

Further evidence that we work in the real world and not just the virtual world are the other activities that support our services. We hold training courses and IFA forums that help our customers get the best from our service as well as providing us with valuable feedback. The backbone of this programme are the eXcom conferences we hold for IFAs. This year, there have been six eXcoms throughout the UK and around 2,000 IFAs have participated.

While our services are well established, we are only just beginning to change the way that the industry does business and we are committed to further developments.

The proposed acquisition of Crisp Computing demonstrates this commitment. We will be integrating Crisp&#39s capability with our existing IFA portal to offer our customers with a complete, integrated solution to meet all of their needs. Our service, embracing all elements of the distribution chain from pre-sales through new business processing to policy servicing, will be provided as a complete tailored solution or on a pay-as-you-go basis. This end-to-end solution will not be exclusive as we will continue to work with third-party service providers, maximising the service choice available to IFAs.

Within the industry there is a lot of unanswered questions at the moment surrounding polarisation. The proposed introduction of multi-ties will have a profound effect on the IFA industry. Whatever the final outcome, we are here to work in partnership with both IFAs and product providers to ensur we deliver the solutions required to support IFAs, however the market develops.

Our objective is to enable our customers to reduce costs, spend less time on administration, improve customer service and spend more time on what they do best – providing their clients with quality financial advice.

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