Bob Freeman talks to Helen Morrissey about the launch of Voyant Adviser, a web based tool which aims to get advisers and their clients working together on financial planning.
Tell me about the Voyant Adviser tool?
The best way to describe this tool is as a collaborative cash flow modelling tool. It invites the adviser and their client to work together to enter information regarding the client's key financial goals and aspirations. The tool can be used throughout a client's life from perhaps their twenties or thirties right through to post retirement. The tool enables advisers and clients to identify the key drivers influencing their financial planning and help them to meet their goals. For instance if we look at a client's retirement, the tool enables the client and adviser to look at what the client's assets are in their entirety and see where they stand with regards to tax, debt etc. After taking all factors into account, the adviser can then turn this information into a cash flow model to ensure the client has enough money to meet their needs over the long term. The adviser can then review this annually to see if any shortfalls may occur and they can even add in one-off expenditures like holidays or the cost of a child's wedding or education to see how this will affect the client's overall financial position.
This tool is less of a back office product and more of a tool to engage clients in their financial planning. It is all done online and enables clients and their advisers to work on establishing their financial goals together. They can even work remotely from each other - they do not have to be in the same room. I would say the major selling point of this tool is its collaborative nature.
What was the thinking behind Voyant Adviser?
I have always had an interest in raising levels of financial literacy and I think there is real pressure on the industry to come up with new ways of engaging people. Voyant was already building a US version of the product in 2006 and the issues of Treating Customers Fairly and the Retail Distribution Review have proved to be a catalyst for developing the UK version. This tool concentrates on improving how advice is delivered and it is clearly striking a chord in the market right now. The US version was launched in January 2008. We launched as a company in the UK in January 2009 with full production beginning in June.
What are the key challenges that you have faced in developing this tool?
My challenge was to ensure that we built a version of the tool that was truly UK focused. Overwhelmingly in the past adviser tools have tended to be US concepts shoehorned into the UK market and maybe this is why they have not really taken off. We had to sweep away any US metrics and scope the product out according to UK product and tax rules. The other key challenge was to ensure we developed something that is intuitive and simple for the client and adviser to use.
The third challenge that we faced, was that on looking at the market we could see there were tools out there but they are not getting used. People were not engaging with them, they were just generating reports from them. This approach was not really helping the adviser to agree with clients what their goals were - it was not very collaborative. We needed to be confident that the tool would be used as a part of the advice process rather than just as a back office tool.
How much training is needed to use Voyant Adviser?
There is some training involved. We provide a quick start guide to get people up and running. We then do a regular series of webinars that people can log into and these go through different aspects of how the tool works. We also do a weekly tips page and can also provide bespoke training sessions that can be carried out either face to face or remotely. We also offer a 30-day free trail and have found that those people who spend a bit of time working with the tool have been able to master it fairly quickly.
What kind of feedback have you had on the product so far and where do you go from here?
It has all been very positive and we currently have over 200 firms trailing the tool at the moment. Going forward, we will look to develop different versions of Voyant Adviser. For instance, we would like to launch a consumer version of the tool for those who want to really do their research before going to an adviser. We are also thinking about developing a version that is specifically aimed at the retirement planning industry.
Bob Freeman is chief operating officer for the UK at Voyant
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