By Ann Dempster, Managing Director, Plum Software
With increasing pressure on businesses from the rapidly approaching RDR deadline and an ever more competitive financial advice market, IFAs are looking at how their businesses can be more efficient and made to work smarter, in which process the right technology can play a significant role.
Fundamental to the use of technology is that it is used as a tool that works with the IFA firm and improving the way the business operates, not the other way around.
Many businesses find that over the years their data has been captured in lots of different places and there is duplicate entry as well. To work efficiently, all client and contact details should be held in one place, with only one point of entry for each data item, and the system should be usable by all areas of the business. This central system can ensure each member of a firm has access to the details relevant to his/her tasks and the same information is available to authorised personnel throughout the firm. It is important to establish standards as to what data needs to be entered at the different stages of the advice process, and technology can facilitate this very simply by highlighting the fields that need to be entered, with reminders if they are not completed.
Since a key resource used by IFAs on a day-to-day basis is their diary, having the diary functionality at the heart of the software system can make workflow an intuitive and easier task. For example, documents can be scanned directly into the diary, giving a proper database structure so that they can be instantly found and accessed. Emails can be added from the Inbox into the diary by highlighting those associated with a client or contact. Any Word or Excel documents can also be attached to the diary. The correspondence and attachments can then be retrieved via options including the person, policy, provider, type of document, timing etc. In addition, by systematically adding every form of correspondence and document electronically, you can create a less costly, less-paper office within the software.
Accurate recording also facilitates accurate accounting, particularly for fee-based business. By attaching timings to all events, costing reports can be used alongside any fee invoices in cost justification to clients. Importantly, different activities by different levels of personnel can have their own charging structures, making cost efficiencies of the business easier to document and control.
Another great advantage is that centralised systems can be configured to be accessible via the Internet, which means authorised personnel can access documents and records or create reports from any location using a laptop, iPAD or tablet, while smartphones can link through for calendars etc.
Being able to access your data anywhere can not only provide business efficiencies but a better service to the client and importantly, in a client meeting can project a better professional image. An additional advantage when on the move is the increased security of not holding data on a standalone machine.
Once a business’s system has been streamlined and made more efficient, selected data can be made available to clients, enhancing the service provided. For instance, via an IFA firm’s website clients can be allowed to view their fact find, policy summary and portfolio valuations etc, as well as using the website to contact the firm if they want further details or to change their details. This can be customised so that different bands of clients receive different levels of access to the website and the data. Likewise, a document repository linked to the software can give clients secure access to view, download and / or print documents that have been produced for them.
These are the upfront, sales-orientated advantages of using good technology to increase performance and efficiencies in an IFA business. However, there are other aspects of using the right technology tools that are sometimes overlooked or not thought about until it is too late – in particular, data security, maintenance and retrieval. It is essential before any details are entered into a cloud based or hosted solution that the business knows exactly how it can get access to its data if there is a disaster with the systems supplier or if further down the line the firm wants to move supplier. Equally important is maintenance of historical backups for compliance checks, as unless the FSA allows a backstop on financial advice complaints there will be a need to keep records going back many years.
Of course, not all IFAs have need for an Internet or cloud solution, either because they work in the same location every day or they prefer to retain their systems and data within their office environment. Here it is a case of having the right technology provider willing to accommodate the requirements of all types of users as well as the right technology.
There are many challenges but also many opportunities ahead for the IFA market. Having the right technology in place now with a supplier that is constantly evolving and enhancing their software in line with IFA business needs, will be a major step towards ensuring IFA firms can not only works smarter but continue to do so in the years to come.