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Two-way street

Zurich’s platform is a late arrival but Mark Peters says listening to advisers before launching gives it a competitive advantage, reports Rachael Adams

Employing 60,000 staff in 170 countries is a world away from the origins of a business that started off providing marine reinsurance in Switzerland but that is what Zurich has achieved in the 140 years since its foundation.

Head of retail propositions Mark Peters says: “Zurich was the first Swiss-based company to move into the US. It came to prominence in the UK in 1998 when it merged with British American Financial Services. Within the BAFS brand you had Eagle Star and Allied Dunbar, which had both been offering life insurance for years.”

Peters says Zurich’s long history and global reach makes it a stronger company that benefits both consumers and advisers. “Advisers are constantly telling us they want certainty from the providers they work with and our financial strength ratings from Moody’s and S&P provide that.

“Also, consumers are increasingly aware of how secure the institutions they invest are in post-recession.”

2007 saw the launch of what Peters describes as Zurich’s “key product” – its Sipp. He says: “It is seen as a one-stop shop. Clients can be invested in a personal pension-type arrangement or they can go into a much wider remit and access over 1,000 funds via our fund supermarket.”

The company also offers a trustee investment plan, which aims to give other Sipps the opportunity to invest in Zurich’s range of funds.

However, the area taking up most of Zurich’s time at the moment is its platform offering. It launched its corporate savings platform, Zurich Money4Life, last year, and is in the initial stages of processing member details on the new system.

Zurich corporate distribution director Stephen Lefley believes now is the time for corporate platforms.

Lefley says: “For most people, thinking about retirement simply is not a priority but that presents a real opportunity for workplace savings. Auto-enrolment will offer a natural catalyst to re-examine benefit structures and competitive pressures will force more creativity in benefit design. We plan to broaden our reach over the coming months.”

Peters: ’Our two-way integration system is a time-saving device for advisers. It allows them to move through processes quickly and efficiently, which they will need post-2013’

Zurich is developing a retail counterpart to its corporate platform which was due to launch in the last quarter of 2011 although this has been delayed to the second quarter this year. Peters says: “It was delayed because we want to deliver a market-leading platform. We have based it on what advisers want which means things can take longer than anticipated but we are confident that Q2 will be the right time.”

Zurich will initially roll out the platform to a select group of IFA partners before opening it out to market six to eight weeks later.

The company is aware how competitive the platform market is but Peters says Zurich’s offering is capable of dislodging the major players.

He says: “We are a bit late to market but that means we have been able to listen to IFAs and understand what they do and do not like about platforms. It gives us a competitive advantage.”

One feature of the platform that will differentiate it from competitors is a two-way integration system between advisers’ back-office systems and the platform.

Peters says: “Most platforms allow advisers to take valuations from the platform and push them to the back office. But when we spoke to IFAs they said they key all this information into the back office and it would be great if they could somehow push information from there to the platform.”

The RDR is another reason to include the two-way integration system. Peters says: “This is a time-saving device for advisers. It allows themto move through processes quickly and efficiently, which they will need post-2013.”

Zurich is also aiding IFAs on a more pensions-specific basis with its relaunch of Zurich4Pensions. Originally brought out in 2009, Zurich relaunched it last September to help advisers keep up with regulatory change. Peters says: “We had to make it easier for IFAs to find the infornation they needed.”

He suspects that pension regulation may yet affect advisers further.

He says: “Auto-enrolment will probably pick up much of the pension accumulation phase as people save through workplace schemes, so I think advice will move to the at retirement end. That will be the place where advisers can add value.”

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