Stephen Wynne-Jones, director of sales and marketing at Assureweb, says that reviewing the software they use can bring real benefits to advisers
Financial advisers need bespoke systems that will add value to their businesses, but with ever-increasing time pressures, many firms opt for incumbent suppliers and out-dated systems, rather than reviewing their software.
This is particularly true of portal services, where too many advisers are settling for second best simply because they do not have the time to shop around. Yet, reviewing other options could lead to long-term big business benefits, especially in the light of increased FSA regulation.
The new regulatory demands - covering mortgage and general insurance - that came into effect in October 2004 and January 2005 respectively have no doubt added to the already considerable burden on advisers. However, those who continue to service clients using traditional paper-based methods could become disadvantaged as the sheer scale of documents and filing of reports required continues to grow.
The reality for advisers is that they have no way of knowing which products the FSA will decide to investigate in six years' time. Storing six years of documents is a nuisance at best and a logistical nightmare at worst. Access is also likely to be a problem. Technology-based solutions provide an enormous advantage over inefficient, paper-based record keeping.
On the most basic level, technology should speed up tasks such as conducting fact-finds, providing illustrations for clients, selecting products, making applications, and conducting risk assessments; thus creating more time to talk and advise clients and, at the end of the day, increasing a financial firm's productivity. Product providers are keen for the advice industry to embrace technology as e-business saves them time and money, and enables them to increase service standards offered to advisers.
Increase in red tape
The increase in red tape, especially with A-Day looming large, means that advisers are facing huge demands on their time and bank balances. With this in mind, IT and systems need to be cost-effective. When examining your portal options, you must appreciate that costs can dramatically increase with use, rather than solely considering the headline licence fee.
Portals that add value tend to harness the best-in-breed systems available in the market, to complement their own services. The growing trend for providers to develop their own extranets, which allows advisers to submit their new business applications electronically, is a perfect example of this.
A real benefit for advisers here is that if they have previously produced a quote electronically, the data is reused. Mistakes and the chances of missing information are minimised, giving advisers ample opportunity to correct the form prior to submission. This seamless experience saves time, as advisers can move from initial quote to policy acceptance in less then 15 minutes, without having to jump in and out of different systems. This concept is simple enough, but is rare among portals.
With the explosion of e-business has come a dramatic increase in the level of fraud. Many advisers are apprehensive about disclosing information online, particularly when submitting new business applications electronically. Robust security is therefore a must and portals that take this issue seriously have secured best practice standard accreditation. Assureweb is the only portal to have BS7799 accreditation, which demonstrates our commitment to security investment.
Recent research by Assureweb found that more than three-quarters of advisers (77%) believe that good technology helps to create a better business image, demonstrating the importance of portals. Only 8% feel that technology plays no part in the way that adviser businesses are perceived. Yet usability is the key and it is for this reason that adequate training and support should also be available. Advisers should look for portals that offer telephone-based help, online assistance, and simple, free training.
It is fair to say that examining business needs when it comes to choosing a portal will help to make life easier in the long-run. Accepting an expensive service from a portal that you have little regard for, just because you have used it historically, is unnecessary, for there are good alternatives available at less cost. Taking time out to review your options can only be time well spent in the long-term.
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