The Research Department is an independent product res earch business which aims to drive value into an IFA's business through the effective use of information. There is no doubt that, with the loss of polarisation, IFAs will have to play to their main strength – independence. This means that customers will expect IFAs to have knowledge of the widest choice of flexible, cost-effective products and TRD's Aequos database provides this service It is a Herculean task for the beleaguered IFA to keep a check on the many minor changes in product-charging structures while keeping abreast of each product's nuances. Aequos provides this information with a few clicks of the mouse, allowing the IFA to get on with the important business of the day – to advise clients.
Aequos is easy to use. It has only five major functions, allowing the IFA to sift, sort and select the best product for a particular set of client circumstances. It is then a simple matter to produce product reports and easy-to-understand comparison charts to justify the selection to regulators and clients.
Integrity of data is the cornerstone of good advice. TRD sources its data from product provider documentation, also receiving notification of additions and changes through fax and email. The data is constantly being updated by the country's largest team of researchers, all specialists in their chosen disciplines. This freshness of data is available to subscribers through downloads via the company's FTP site, though the majority of clients operate on weekly or monthly update cycles via CDs. Data is updated daily as products are launched and amended. Once a quarter, the integrity of all the data is checked by a process of validation in which providers check the information held on the database against their products. All changes are incorporated immediately the validation forms are returned.
TRD offers a range of products to IFAs. The main IFA products are Aequos and IFA Counsellor. These are electronic databases which provide coverage across life, pensions, investment, healthcare, savings, lending and general insurance. TRD also provides specialist fund performance data via FundTracker, which gives users the ability to produce reports and charts showing unit trust, Oeic, life and pension fund performances and also allows a great deal of comparative data to be produced.
In addition, TRD produces RateTracker, Masterfile and Savings Market. RateTracker is a computer-based system which provides annuity rates for the different pension types by age, sex and amount to be invested. Other rates, such as for life insurance, are also available. Masterfile is a weekly paper-based best-buy report covering rates for annuities, term and whole-of-life insurance, PHI, savings, mortgages, guaranteed bonds and endowments. Savings Market is a triennial production containing product information on all major financial product groups. Its information is derived from the Aequos database and
is used as a major industry reference work.
The Aequos and IFA Counsellor databases are some of the main products used by the IFA community. Aequos is the “Roll-Royce” product with application across providers and advisers while Counsellor is designed specifically for IFAs. They have similar functionality with the main differences being that Counsellor focuses on products available to IFAs.
The structure and facilities offered by the Aequos and Counsellor databases make them particular useful to IFAs.
Data on both systems is held on two levels. Top level data is represented by entries that give the systems their conventional database look and feel. However, by clicking on each cell by the spreadsheet opens up “brochure text”, that is, additional explanatory text that can run into many lines. The advantage of this is that the data management features operate at the top level for speed of use while always retaining the underlying supporting data.
Both systems allow for either a solution-based approach or a comparison-based approach to product selection. Built into the software are power ful sift and sort facilities that permit either approach. Products can readily be sifted so that only those that match the client's requirement are allowed through the product sieve. The sort facility allows rankings to be achieved on any numerical field.
Product DNA is a unique scoring system that allows users to position products in relation to their peers across whatever criteria that are relevant to customers. DNA scoring measures differences between products in numerical terms and lends itself to powerful graphical presentation. Unlike some other systems which have different weights assigned to different criteria, all DNA scores are unwe ighted and not open to manipulation by advisers wanting to promote a particular product.
Both Aequos and Counsellor allow users to customise parts of the database by storing either selected panels of companies or saving search criteria so that as product features changes they will be included in or excluded from the search results. Known as views, once set up, these stored criteria save IFAs a great deal of time because they only need to be specified once and thereafter can be opened by a simple command. Views guarantee consistency of approach within a practice or a network and provide a short cut to extracting data on a consistent basis.
Should IFAs require assistance with setting up panels of providers, TRD offers this service through its consultancy department.
Copying and pasting data from Aequos and Counsellor directly into client reports is easily done. All types of data can be transferred, including tables, DNA charts and text.
Panel Manager is an extension of the views system. This allows IFA companies to control what views are accessed at branch level. The great advantage of this is that once an IFA company has identified the providers and products that are suitable within the various product groups, Panel Manager allows these, and the views in which they are imbedded, to be disseminated to all their branches and updated every time the central system is updated.
Compliance issues are addressed because both Aequos and Counsellor produce tangible evidence of compliance with the regulations by enabling both an audit trail of the advisory process and a report supporting client recommendations to be produced.
Counsellor costs £125 a month plus VAT, FundTracker is £200 a year plus VAT, Savings Market £110 a year plus VAT, Masterfile costs £268 a year plus VAT but the Annuities Section on its own is £154 a year. RateTracker costs £423 a year plus VAT while charges for Aequos depend on the module.