Bankhall must be one of the outstanding successes in personal finance product distribution in the last decade.
Its approach allows new advisers to enhance their regulatory status and the range of advice that they can offer. Starting with non-regulated status via Point One, progressing to a network member authorised to carry out investment business, via its incubator network Investment Strategies, and ultimately to direct authorisation with support services being offered “a la carte”, via Portfolio Membership Services or “Fix Prix” from Bankhall Investment Associates.
From December 1999 to June 2003, the company's adviser numbers more than tripled from 2,200 to 7,100. Some sources identify Bankhall as accounting for 25 per cent of the IFA market. This scale of growth clearly brings with it challenges but it also provides the scale that can make significant investment in technology economically viable.
Bankhall IT director Nigel Hopwood recently demonstrated to me a number of exciting new services that the firm is in the process of delivering to members. Users of the various Bankhall services will be able to access these through the IFA Engine portal.
The quotation and new business functionality is delivered from The Exchange. This is complemented by a range of additional services that can be accessed from a simple menu, including client management, commission records, a compliance Library, CPD records, KPI indicators and a portfolio management tool. The layout and design varies slightly depending on which organisation a member belongs to.
It is important to stress that the simple client data-base within IFA Engine is not designed to be an alternative to one of the major IFA customer relationship management systems from companies such as 1st Soft-ware, Quay or Sirius, whose systems are capable of managing a wide range of time-consuming services for an IFA business but do need a significant level of training. IFA Engine delivers a very simple client database to enable advisers to begin the process of keeping client records electronically.
Such a simple approach is an ideal way to get advisers starting to use technology. In time, today's users of simple databases such as IFA Engine can be expected to gain confidence and may progress to be users of bigger CRM/back-office systems.
The challenge to us as an industry today is to get people starting to use technology and moving away from paper.
Anyone who has visited a client for a review meeting with the previous fact-find pre-populated to a laptop system is never going to want to fill in a second paper fact-find again. The time liberated from paper-filling the second time around becomes valuable client advice time.
The challenge is to get the paper fact-find loaded to the system in the first place. Understandably, sitting in front of the client doing a fact-find using two-finger typing is inconceivable to advisers who lack keyboard skills.
Like most such systems, the standard IFA Engine fact-find can be completed on paper, with the adviser passing the paper document to an administrator for data entry. Despite this being a predominantly online system, Bankhall has recognised that there are some situations where offline functionality is required. A future upgrade to IFA Engine, to be released shortly, will be able to load the last client fact-find entered on to the system to a laptop, update it with the client while not connected to IFA Engine and then populate the new fact-find back to IFA Engine.
This capability is due to arrive at the same time as the company launches its new compliance automation system. This will be the normal way for new cases submitted by ISL members and an optional extra for Bankhall members. Bankhall is introducing this facility to make its existing compliance capability scaleable.
The new system will electronically bundle together the fact-find and other necessary documents that have to be submitted to the compliance department. Where paper-based documents are involved, including those with a signature, these will be received by a fax gateway system. Documents generated from IFA Engine contain a machine-readable code which, when they arrive at Bankhall head office by fax, are automatically allocated to exactly the right client case record and converted to Adobe Acrobat format for future access.
To reduce the burden further on advisers, the new service includes a document generator which can create 19 different documents needed in the advice process, including the appointment letter, suitability letter and fact-find.
When received at Bankhall, case information is imported to a Sirius workflow system and a series of automated processes used to analyse the case before it is delivered to a compliance officer for final approval.
Bankhall estimates that this will result in a significant reduction in the amount of time that a compliance officer will need to spend on a case, giving an even faster turn-round for members. The progress of cases submitted electronically can be accessed via IFA Engine.
A further important development which is due to become operational in the second quarter of this year will be an aggregation service that can deliver information on clients existing contracts electronically to the adviser's desktop via IFA Engine.
This element of the service is built by SolidSoft, a specialist Microsoft BizTalk integrator, and will take advantage of the contract enquiry message standards that have been developed by Origo. Axa, Clerical Medical, Friends Provident and Skandia are the first insurers due to go live on this service.
A recent study by my own organisation for Adviser Forum identified that potential savings of Â£2,000 per RI can be achieved by IFAs who use such messaging services to get information rather than phoning product providers' call centres.
The benefits for Bankhall members may be considerably greater as the company is to link this messaging service with a range of online retirement planning tools from Pension Actuarial Service, enabling users to use the information to identify the full extent of clients' current provision and the need for additional investment. These will include the capability to carry out what-if and shortfall analysis, hence identifying further business opportunities.
This is a further example of tools and services arriving this year to improve advisers' efficiency and profitability significantly. It certainly moves Bankhall into one of the market-leading positions in terms of its technology offering.