The world has become obsessed with technology – from 3G phones and Ipods to fully integrated home entertainment systems and portable DVD players.Depolarisation and regulatory changes have forced product providers to overhaul their IT systems. Advisers have also had to get to grips with technical advances from back-office systems to portals. Many are finding that better technology is leading to greater productivity but there are still plenty who are not making the link. Technology providers to the advice market are slowly coming to realise that the one-size-fits-all approach is no longer feasible. Recent market analysis conducted by Sesame Technology found that four specific user groups with varying levels of understanding and ability were emerging in the advice market. Sesame’s research means that for the first time financial advisers can be categorised into four distinct groups based on their IT skills and their attitudes to technology – fluent fixers, conversational enthusiasts, reluctant participants and technophobes. Fluent fixers are not afraid of technology and will persevere to get to the root of a problem. They are proactive and have a clear understanding of the fit of systems and why things do not work and how to fix the problem. Sesame estimates that this group makes up around 10 per cent of the IFA market. Far more advisers can be placed in the conversational enthusiast camp. Those in this group understand the importance of IT but have difficulty achieving a solution and communicating the problem. They are eager but have problems in understanding technol- ogy. Around 30 per cent of the IFA community would fit into this group. Two tiers have emerged in the conversational enthusiast group, the young and new to the industry and the older generation of advisers. Where this group falls down is in IT competency. They do not have the IT knowhow of flu- ent fixers but welcome formal training and support. There is also a strong representation of females in this group. Reluctant participants make up the biggest group in the market at 40 per cent. These advisers have more or less realised that they have got to move with the times if they want to improve the running of their business. They have the same usage level as conversational enthusiasts but have used technology begrud-gingly. Reluctant participants can see the merits of technology but find the experience at times rather problematic. Another trend emerging among this group is the view that technology has a low perceived value against its cost. Technophobes are simply not interested in technology and do not see any need to change their business style. They are aware of the new regulatory demands being placed on advisers but are unwilling to adapt and become IT-competent. According to the research, as many as one in five IFAs can be classed as technophobes. The research adds weight to the argument that technology providers must either ditch their one-size-fits-all approach or technology will remain on the outskirts of the sector. Commonly used IT-buzzwords such as scaleability, back-office systems and open architecture simply switch IFAs off along with the insular techspeak that technology providers have been guilty of spouting over recent years. Providers must start addressing the varied needs of IT users in the market, replacing technobabble with easy-to-use systems that IFAs can understand. For many IFAs, technical skills are a foreign lan- guage and providers and support groups should be doing everything they can to ensure that all levels are confident in incorporating technology into the ever-changing oper- ating environment. Advisers feel that technology can bring a number of benefits to their business in a particularly testing environment with 60 per cent saying technology allows for greater compliance within their business and 68 per cent saying it aids efficient book-keeping. Seventy-seven per cent say that good technology helped to create a better image for a business. On the whole, technical proficiency is improving but there is still a great deal of work to be done, particularly when it comes to IFAs in the conversational enthusiast and reluctant participant categories. Technophobes have more or less made it clear that technology is not for them and are willing to continue operating as they always have done but a large part of the market is showing a willingness to learn and improve on their limited capabilities. There will inevitably be a segment of the market refusing to embrace technology but, as technology providers, we have a responsibility to offer systems that are cohesive and user-friendly to all groups. Providers have left IFAs and their support staff to get to grips with complex technology solutions without taking into account varying cap- abilities. Most business-conscious IFAs are aware of the advantages of technology but the next step is ensuring that the systems in which they have invested are doing what they want them to do, which is where training plays a crucial role. Providers should think of training as an extension of their service and a responsibility to help ensure smooth running of the industry. Product and portal providers must understand the importance of the supporting the user, whether they are fluent fixers or reluctant participants. Importance should be placed on working with customer management teams to ensure that coming to grips with technology is not as daunting as learning a new language. The key to IT providers’ success in the financial services market will not lie in what systems can do but in what the users can do with the systems.
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