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The missing m-link

Regular readers of this column may recall that at the beginning of June I looked at the new m-link service from Misys Interactive Trading. At the time, I formed the view that, while the service was relatively simple and straightforward to use, there were still a number of teething problems and, frankly, insufficient life offices supporting the system.

I suggested I would revisit the package in a couple of months to see if things had improved.

Unfortunately, when I went to carry out a further review, I found my password was no longer valid. On contacting m-link, I was informed that one or more life office, which it refused to name, had objected to my having access to the service. This was something of a surprise as, in my experience, most life offices fall over themselves to provide me with facilities to review products and services in this column.

I have subsequently contacted the e-commerce directors of all the life offices I know and, as yet, have not been able to identify anyone who would object.

Call me cynical but, the longer this went on, the more I got the feeling m-link did not really want me to see the current system. Given that the company had previously distributed some 20,000 copies of its software to IFAs, it was not too difficult to track down a copy and agree with an IFA that I could spend some time in its office looking at the software.

The IFA I visited was not one which had been given a copy of the electronic new-business system so I was not able to test those facilities. But I did test the quotation services for bonds, mortgage products, protection and pensions.

My initial conclusion was that the service still suffers from a distinct shortage of providers. On the other hand, it is still highly intuitive and, although it was about three months since I used it, I managed to find my way around the various screens quite quickly.

A positive observation from the IFA which provided me with access – an Exchange user which has also registered with AssureWeb, was that it likes the fact that m-link will work offline, with the need only to go online to obtain the quotation.

The firm still uses the Common Trading Platform version of The Exchange software as it finds the replacement eXweb service too complicated to use offline and has similar reservations about AssureWeb being online only.

At long last, high-speed, fixed-price internet connections are becoming available. However, they will take time to roll out across the country, so perhaps this is an issue The Exchange and AssureWeb may want to consider changing.

The number of providers supporting the service is still limited and this is more than a little disappointing. On the other hand, I am well aware that, all too often, such delays come from the insurer rather than the service provider.

Some errors did appear within both the m-link and insurer services and, on each occasion when I tried to print, the system returned a message saying a script error had occurred on the page.

It is noticeable that, if you want an illustration showing any level of commission surrender, it is necessary to obtain a comparative illustration on normal commission terms and then request individual illustrations at the lower commission rates. This is not as user-friendly as it might be.

I understand from m-link that it is now developing a process known as third-party-specific quotations which will allow far more information to appear on illustrations such as individual fund choices. However, it says these are in the early development stages and is not able to suggest any launch dates.

M-link has now added a website creation tool to its service along similar lines to the AssureWeb IFA Window and Exchange AdviserNet Web Builder services. But it did say at the Manchester IFA UK show two weeks ago that services to allow IFAs to populate their own sites with comparative quotation services are not likely until at least the middle of 2001.

If this is the case, I fear that m-link might fall short on the most importantarea that I believe any service provider can deliver to an IFA – empowering its own business-to-consumer presence.

I believe the key factor in any IFA choosing a business-to-business service provider must be that it will best support the adviser&#39s consumer-facing service. It simply does not make sense to go to one organisation to get your quotes and then use a different service to deliver to your clients.

If m-link is not able to deliver on this important area sooner than the middle of next year, I suspect it may severely undermine its chances of capturing a significant slice of the IFA market, particularly as recent research shows so many IFA firms intend to establish their web presence within the next 12 months.

I also find such delays surprising as Misys Interactive Trading has previously said its direct-to-consumer offering will be launched later this year. If it can build the tool to compete with IFAs by going direct to the public, why can it not deliver those same tools into IFAs&#39 own websites?

Overall, I have to say I was disappointed by the amount of progress that seems to have been made with this service. It is essential to get some competition into the marketplace so IFAs have a choice of support services to use.

I will leave the last word in all this to Colin Sloss, head of IFA relations at m-link, who informed the Manchester IFA UK audience that the service is “not a viable product for the majority of IFAs today as, with only 11 product providers, this is not sufficient for a full comparative service”.

Hopefully, this will change before too long.

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