"Elon Musk is trying to send people to Mars and we're still faffing around whether clients can fill in an online fact find," one financial adviser tells Julie Best. Here, she discusses what five things advisers actually want from technology providers …
When a grand total of zero people raised their hands in an audience of more than 350 financial advisers and planners at April's PA360 event after they were asked "are you happy with your current technology set-up?", that got us at NextWealth thinking. Vast amounts of money and time are being invested by businesses across the retail advice chain on developing technology. Are efforts being directed where those on the front end of delivering financial advice really need it?
Our industry has been revolutionised since the introduction of trading platforms and wrap accounts, and yet too many financial planning firms find themselves with a weak infrastructure and clunky processes. One CEO told us they have a "messy ball of string" of different pieces of software that do not speak to each other. Downward pressure on fees means every business is working to maximise efficiency so now, more than ever, advisers need to be running their most effective infrastructure.
We have spoken to a raft of financial advisers, planners and business owners, and here is what we can share about what they really want from their technology right now:
1. More focus on core financial planning tools
A common theme in our adviser and planner interviews was the "clunky", "labourious" and "really hard work" process of client onboarding. "It is not a beautiful, seamless experience from the client's viewpoint", said one. From a business perspective it means frustrating delays between initial contact with a client and delivering the first piece of advice.
Out of 469 advisers we surveyed this month, three quarters (78%) told us it typically takes more than 3 weeks to onboard new clients, with more than a third (38%) saying it takes more than a month.
As one MD put it: "Elon Musk is trying to send people to Mars and we're still faffing around whether clients can fill in an online fact find". He continued: "People build a lot of stuff that people don't need. Robo investment solutions; that seems to be the thing that everyone's building; risk profiles, end user interfaces. For a financial planning firm it's irrelevant. Where are the tools to help you with the actual financial planning process?"
2. Direct access to clients' existing policy data
In our adviser survey this month, seven-in-ten (72%) of respondents said the lengthiest part of working with a new client is waiting for providers to release information on the client's existing policies.
Similar to open banking platforms, several advisers we spoke to would like to be able to go and extract client data from existing providers without all of the paperwork and chasing. One frustrated planner we spoke to put it this way: "We need to get them to sign a whole load of forms to give permission to speak to their existing providers. We email those, maybe send them in the post, make a diary note, they'll be slow in responding, they'll only send half the information. It all takes weeks, if not months".
More technology for the "advice machine" was also on advisers' wish lists. Taking data on existing policies, and then number-crunching it, currently involves a lot of manual labour and advisers told us they would like technology to take some of that burden, leaving them and their highly skilled paraplanners to focus more of their time on delivering the best proposition to clients.
3. A realistic approach to integration
We have seen universal agreement that different pieces of adviser technology should be much better at talking to each other, and that the UK lags other markets, such as the US, for integration. Tech firms are working on this issue, and in the meantime advisers would appreciate a more realistic approach to current integrations and more support. For example, one adviser told us: "There is lots of talk about how well Voyant and Intelliflo's iO speak to each other, but in reality the IT people come in and press 15 buttons and it all works brilliantly, then they go away and you're left wondering."
4. Better support in implementation and configuration
The disjoint between the sales pitch and the reality of implementation is another recurrent theme in our adviser conversations.
Advisers find themselves disappointed that the shiny new system that was described by the salesperson is failing to deliver as promised, or that they forked out large sums of money and are underutilising their technology. "Using a Rolls-Royce to do the school run", was how one business owner described their situation.
Eileen Murphy of Informed Training told us: "We know why they're not using it, [it's] because it isn't customised around an individual company's processes. The processes and related tasks need to be created or amended in the back of their systems, and then tasks that can often take a day to do can be completed in just an hour".
Software suppliers can be stretched to deliver bespoke training. They are providing videos, which can have a place, but, says Eileen, "often it doesn't work because it doesn't relate to the individual firm".
An adviser with a more positive experience confirmed: "100% of our technology success story is down to good people and strong business processes, and a correct set-up to configure to those processes".
5. People and relationships first
Time and again in conversations we learned that even those planning and advice businesses with a younger or more tech-savvy client base are unable to "wow" them with shiny technology. "We thought we could have cool, slick tech that would make everything amazing and then clients would come in", said one planner.
"You'd think they want more tech than the average client, but when it comes down to financial planning it's the touching base with a human they want more," said another. So this last point is a general one that we think tech providers would do well to keep in mind: what matters most to financial planners and advisers is time-saving, efficiency-maximising, seamless tools that allow them to do more of what they do best.
Advisers also told us there is no centralised source to find out all the different technology options and how they work together, and so NextWealth is preparing to launch a directory of tech and ops providers supporting financial advice businesses with real-world reviews and opinions. You can visit https://nextwealthdirectory.co.uk to find out more and add your tech reviews.
Julie Best is a qualitative researcher at NextWealth
Users of Intelligent Office
Still under-serviced area of sandbox
Raised £36m in funding round
Minister wants to 'name and shame'
The government will reintroduce the pension schemes bill as part of an “ambitious programme of domestic reform”, the Queen’s Speech confirmed today.
Benefits could go to 100%
Misuse of audio feed