LifeBase UK is a fresh face in the marketplace but it hails from a company with a proven track record. LifeBase Off shore, launched in 1997 as ProBase, was an immediate success with product pro viders. LifeBase Offshore was quickly taken up by 17 international life providers, including the offshore companies of operations such as Royal & Sun Alliance, Scottish Mutual, Skandia, Friends Provident, Sun Life and Scottish Widows.
An impressive list of IFAs has since followed, among them HSBC, Aon, NatWest Insurance Services, Frizzell and Chase de Vere.
This success and user popularity prompted a major UK development programme, which has come to fruition in the form of LifeBase UK for product providers and bigger IFAs and, for other IFAs, LifeBase UK Analyser and LifeBase Offshore Analyser, which were all launched in October 2000.
First and foremost, the LifeBase systems are much more than just product databases. They are fast and efficient, self-contained (no internet connection required), multi-dimensional analysis systems able to assist IFA users through all aspects of the financial planning process.
At the heart of both systems is a massive database of life and pension product information. There is a choice of tabular comparisons or, for more in-depth analysis, individually structured product screens displaying very det ailed breakdowns.
In among the detail is a comprehensive review of the charging structures for each product, thorough analysis of additional protection benefits, detailed fund links information, unitised with-profits fund structures and bonus rates. Also, backing up our analysts' assessment of the products is a full-colour literature library providing high-resolution images of the brochures and key features for each of the products covered.
For unit-linked life and pen sion products, analysis of the product terms forms only part of the picture. Ultimately, fund performance will determine the real success or otherwise (to the policyholder) of the product choice.
In recognition of this, the LifeBase systems inc-orporate funds mod ules (multi-currency in the case of LifeBase Offshore) focused on life and pension products.
Past performance and volatility are both measured, and a unique measure – modified performance – is bro ught into play which analyses past performance taking out the effect of management charges (which in the life industry fall into quite a wide range) and thus identifies those companies who have the best investment management record.
To tackle the perennial question of the effect of char ges, LifeBase systems incorporate interactive projection engines. Users can select their own premium levels and terms and produce key features-style values and reductions in yield – all calculated on a consistent, actuarial specification, and display-sorted to meet the user's requirements. Over 520 products can be compared and analysed in this way.
While costs associated with charges do of course matter (in their totality), so too does investment performance. What is needed – for product advisers and analysts – is something which brings the two together.
LifeBase inc orporates the overall performance measure, which com bines the effect of performance history and charges to simulate past product performance on current charges. This is unique, to our knowledge.
Life and pensions are about peace of mind, which is why the ultimate recommendation must always take into account the financial stability of the provider. Key financial indicators such as free-asset ratios, solvency cover (particularly relevant for with-profits), with-profits asset allocations, expense ratios, credit ratings, etc. are displayed within the financials section in easy-to-read tabular or graphical output.
LifeBase also contains a qualitative analysis rating tool – the Investment Flexibility & Access (IFA) Rating. The IFA rating measures products qualitatively on a basis specific to each product type, on clearly defined criteria.
Prod uct scores can be displayed on an aggregate basis by simply adding up the score for each feature.
Taking the analysis a stage further, the IFA rating enables users to produce combined results that take into account the relative importance of each feature through a weighting process carefully designed to ensure that those products seeking safety in numbers (of features) are not inappropriately promoted above those that are focused on providing quality.
One of the biggest challenges facing IFA businesses in the modern regulatory environment is efficiently achieving sales targets while managing the administrative and compliance overheads associated with research and justification of recommendations.
LifeBase systems deliver an all-round solution to this problem within a single Win dows-based package. For example, users can produce, in seconds, a product panel that takes into account charges and performance (the OP measure) as well as features and benefits (the IFA rating). By switching to the financials section, users can then assess the companies on that panel in respect of their financial stability.
Performance information is updated monthly, and product changes on an ongoing basis, so the system evolves with market movements.
The reasons-why wizard enables advisers to produce personalised OP, RIY or IFA rating panels for inclusion in their reasons-why letter, simply by specifying a client's required premium, term and investment sector preference. In short, the research burden is carried by the actuaries and other qualified consultants at LifeBase and not by the IFA.
The massive database and analysis tools are available in the UK Analyser and Offshore Analyser systems for £50 a month for a single user and this reduces for increased user numbers, for example,10-plus users can subscribe for £35 a month per user). Also, until the end of the year, subscription to the UK Ana lyser system will result in a free concurrent licence for Offshore Analyser.