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The tipping point

Although today working with a computer interface with icons, so-called graphical user interfaces, is instinctive for most people but it was not always that way.

Eighteen years ago in May 1990, Microsoft released what is generally recognised as the version of Windows operating system 3.0 which really showed that working with icons on a screen could be far easier to learn and put into practice. Before this, most computer software started with what was know as the “c prompt” c:/, and to open a program you usually typed in a word or command probably followed by the suffix .exe.

This was not the first version of Windows, nor was it the first GUI-based application. Most people would accept that, at the time, Apple offered a far easier alternative but Windows 3.0 was a vast improvement on the text drive DOS software which was the most common operating systems in most offices at the time.

For all its faults, and there were many, the launch of Windows 3.0 was in many ways the tipping point i the adoption of graphics-based computing. Windows never looked back and within a few years DOS ceased to be a viable option.

I got a strange feeling of déjà vu a couple of weeks ago when looking at Bankhall’s new Portavista platform. Here was a service that, although it needs to be developed a lot further, provides an insight into ways of working that could be vastly more efficient than traditional methods.

The major weakness of most platform or wrap-type propositions is that they do not take enough account of the assets the consumer already has invested.

In describing Portavista, there is a serious risk of being dragged into what I consider to be one of the most boring and pointless questions in our industry, what is a wrap/platform?

To me, this does not matter. What is important is whether services deliver what advisers and consumers need.

From what I have seen so far, this service has the potential to be a huge leap forward. In many ways, it is a blend of the old and the new, delivering portal functionality for dealing with life and pension providers but in a far more integrated fashion than any of the current offerings as well as investment and pension wrappers with open architecture.

Add to this the ability to import information on a client’s existing assets from Capita’s Customer Care Desktop product or Bankhall Online for the purposes of asset allocation and portfolio planning and you have the potential to make an adviser’s life a whole lot easier.

To achieve this situation, it is going to be important to have more providers join the system. At launch, the service offers pensions from Aegon, the Funds Direct fund supermarket, and investment portfolios from a world-class investment manager, an organisation that is usually available only to the super-rich, Goldman Sachs International Wealth Management Solutions.

Obviously, advisers are going to want more than one pension provider to use and other products and providers should be added as soon as possible. Nonetheless, because of the extent of pre-population of data from the client management system that has been built in, it will be a far easier way for advisers to establish new cases.

This is how portal functionality should always have worked with the system, automatically capturing any data the adviser already has in the client management system and transferring to Portavista.

The demonstration of the service that I saw was based on working with the new 4.0 release of Capita’s Customer Care Desktop software. The new version of CCD seems to also include some excellent enhancements, overall, it has to be said Capita appears to be getting its act together.

One of the most important points about this service to me is that Bankhall has recognised that the correct role for the platform is as a transactional engine.

The adviser can keep all their core record-keeping in the client management system which continues to be the main point at which the adviser aggregates information.

When an adviser opens Portavista, details of the client, any partner, as well as any goals that have been set up in the client management system, together with all the values on the client’s holdings, are prepopulated.

This means that the latest values in the client management system are automatically available as part of the client review process. This is particularly useful where online valuation services have been used to keep this information up to date.

At the same time, all values of platform funds are refreshed. All this information is then used within the embedded asset allocation tool from Barrie & Hibbert.

This allows the adviser to use the tools in a far more holistic way without the need to manually enter the details of existing contracts.

From this point, the adviser can follow the asset allocation and fund selection process in order to arrive at the appropriate balance of investments for the client.

This may sound a simple change, most really good ideas are simple, yet it is the first time that any platform or wrap provider has been able to demonstrate to me this level of use of information on clients’ existing investments.

I have long believed that the primary difference between an adviser and a product provider or salesperson is the focus on the investments that the client has already made.

At the time of writing, I understand that the exact launch date has yet to be decided but I was also told that the service I was looking at contained all the services that would be available from day one.

Much of what advisers need to work smarter is already in Portavista. I understand that a similar level of integration with 1st Software will follow in a few months so this should give even more Bankhall members the opportunity to work more efficiently and more profitably.

While this is far from the finished article as Bankhall needs to deliver the rest to maximise its benefits, it has the potential to deliver real efficiencies to adviser processes and client servicing now. This service needs more providers on board but I would not be too slow climbing aboard the train as, when they get enough organisations on board, I would struggle to understand why any Bankhall member would want to submit business any other way.

I am fascinated to see how other distributors and platforms will raise their game to achieve a similar result. In the future, when people are looking for the point at which wrap and platforms became the dominant force in UK financial services, they may well look back at the launch of Portavista and recognise it as the tipping point.

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