A panel of product providers, IFA portals and back office software firms has announced plans to set aside commercial pressures and collaborate on the development of IFA technology and support service tools.
Announced on the back of new research related to IFA firms and their technology needs, six firms - comprising 1st Software, IBM, Webline, Prudential, Scottish Widows and Standard Life – are working together to try and implement some level of standardisation between IFA back office operations, portals services and provider extranets to encourage intermediaries to adopt online propositions and make them an essential part of the advice process.
Moreover, all firms involved in the commissioning of this research say they are keen to bring many other companies into the discussions and share their experiences of designing IFA technology in a bid to deliver exactly what advisers need from technology.
Rory Curran, executive chairman of 1st Software, says the panel’s vision for the future is to see technology driving professionalism, however, technology firms have been criticised in the past for delivering what they think people need, rather than what they want.
“We shouldn’t have to maintain data through a convoluted process to get through to any aspect of the [financial services] market. Integration has got to allow us to move from one piece of technology to another smoothly. But if product providers don’t deliver what firms need, they will be marginalised.
“We are going to prove to the market this is a practical project and we can offer benefit. We want to make it work,” continued Curran.
Plans to try and standardise certain aspects of the technology process between all elements of IFA business is in part because early findings of the Adviser E-Enquiry research – conducted by NMG – revealed of the 389 randomly selected IFA firms - less than half use online services on a daily basis and one-third believe it takes longer to complete new business in this way.
There is an apparent polarity between the needs of smaller adviser firms, who are still somewhat reluctant to apply technology to their daily routines, and individuals, such as paraplanners and administrators – based on a second survey of 52 member users of the 1st Software system - who are actually using technology, suggests Shaun Crawford, insurance executive at IBM Business Global Services.
According to the findings, small network and national advisers want financial incentives (42%) and training (45%) to encourage further e-commerce adoption - particularly as almost three-quarters of those questioned rarely submit business online using pre-populated data direct from their back office database - while larger, directly-regulated groups want “quality services” which are faster to access, reliable, present accurate data and are user-friendly.
Financial intermediaries want to see product and software providers collaborate to develop improved standardisation and sites, as they are not willing to use them until they see providers and technology services working together to limit the amount of re-keying needed between systems, suggests Crawford, particularly as 11% of those questioned feel online services are more difficult to use than paper-based methods.
Billy Burnside, sales e-commerce manager at Standard Life, says there seems to be a perception among IFAs that speed of services and length of processes are the reason many smaller firms prefer not to use technology, but that could be combated by greater integration and work on true straight-through processing from the back office all the way through to completion of business.
“[Technology] needs to be joined up because it moves through everything. It needs to be able to deliver quotes and new business and deliver all of the data on the sale back to the [IFA] office. But there is also much talk about the [technology] links between quotes and new business. This is a stop start process [at the IFA firm], the client doesn’t always have the data needed to hand,” adds Burnside.
Jon Cross, head of e-business at Prudential, adds, like Scottish Widows and Standard Life, the life assurer is willing to share its knowledge of what an IFA wants from technology.
“There is general recognition that collaboration is worthwhile. We are happy to share findings about what does and doesn’t work. This is not about saying ‘you must do this’ but about helping those who do work together,” says Cross.
The E-Enquiry technology panel stresses it is not looking to transform the entire industry tomorrow.
That said, Paul Holland, executive chairman at Webline suggests “advisers have a lot to lose if they don’t adopt technology” given the progression of financial services regulation.
Similarly, John Noble, head of e-business channel strategy at Scottish Widows says e-business is no longer an extra proposition but an essential part of most firm’s business practice.
“A small firm will have to spend less than 10% of their PI premium on getting [technology] up and running. There is not an awful lot of choice for those who want to function economically,” says Noble.
If you have any comments you would like to add to this story or would like to speak to its author about a similar subject, telephone Julie Henderson on 020 7968 4571 or email [email protected].IFAonline
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