Many financial advisers buy a software solution to satisfy their perceived business needs and budget, often to realise that they have either outgrown the software or it is inadequate for their needs. This is probably because the software just stores information with limitations on access and analysis. Yet having invested all this time and money installing the software, the thought of having to go through the data transfer process often stops people rectifying this problem.
So what to do if you have chosen the wrong software? It is a big decision to move to another software solution. It can make for a lot of change in your firm. Unfortunately there is no easy answer – data transfer is not a straightforward process and does require time and effort to get it right. However, you have to take a long-term view. The cost of moving the data, retraining and implementing the new software has to be weighed against the cost of not doing anything. There are many examples of large companies who for fifteen years have never been satisfied with their existing software but are reluctant to move. The danger is that bad software holds back progress.
So how do you know if you have chosen the wrong software? Ideally you want the software to work for you. Most people are keen to reduce the amount of paperwork they have, so often the software solution is used to replace the filing cabinet. However, with the wrong software it often does no more than that. If you want to retrieve information from the filing cabinet you need to know where to find it. With basic software, you still have the same problem. With better software, you should be able to find all the selected information and then manipulate it.
For example, if a client is on the telephone, the ideal scenario is to instantly retrieve and analyse information without having to go to the filing cabinet. You should also be able to request the software to show you all the work completed by any or all the consultants in a specific period, view all the related details to a policy or the personal details of a member of a scheme. Technically speaking, this means that proper links should be in place to deal with all enquiries at the click of a few buttons.
Often software has been written for a specific organisation but this will also mean it is limited to those requirements. The advantage of choosing software that is written for the general marketplace is that it is influenced by many more requirements and hence is more flexible. It can also be easily adapted as soon as any new legislation or rules come into being. For example, new rules for costing Professional Indemnity premiums have made it necessary to calculate bands of earned amounts for various categories of business. All data in the software, including some calculated fields, using any filter, go into a data viewer. It can then be grouped and totals, counts and percentages are calculated. By choosing software that has been developed for the general marketplace, you benefit from this ongoing development, rather than having to pay to add in extra functionality at a later date.
It is also cheaper as the costs of development are spread across many organisations. It is said that 3% of the time spent on programming is to develop the functions and 97% of the time is spent making it user friendly.
What happens if you have chosen the wrong software? How does the data transfer process work? The first question most companies ask is, “What am I going to do with my existing data?”
This usually depends on the number of fields within the software. There is very little difference in moving thousands of field items as there is to move a few. Consequently, if you have less than 500 clients in the software then it is easier and cheaper to re-key. Not surprisingly, many clients are not happy to hear that. It is true that a lot of heartache goes into entering data accurately into a system. However, there are benefits. One advantage is that the details can be printed from the previous system and typed straight in, and you can add in some other useful fields at the same time so that the software can start to “work” for the organisation and be more useful.
Most data transfer involves “data massage”, as data is often in the wrong format. For example, in some software you have to enter the client, the partner and the joint details as three separate identities. If there are three entries for the client, which address do you select as their main address? Can you accurately define which clients are linked? They may have the same surname and postcode, but it is possible to have lots of people in the same street. For example, in certain parts of Wales there are lots of unrelated people with the surname of Jones living close to each other.
Sometimes a member of a scheme is entered twice – once associated with the business and then as an individual. Often there is no systematic way to enter similar fields. For example, policy names may be added as text and not as structured fields which makes it impossible to analyse all the clients in a particular policy or link them to the provider to update the valuation details.
A good way to solve this is to transfer some of the data into spreadsheets so that the data can be seen more clearly before it is transferred. This helps to identify conflicting or missing data before the transfer.
Well-structured data transfer programs can help with the matching and reduce the time taken to move the data. It is important to understand exactly which fields will be transferred and where they will be put before agreeing to go ahead.
Having a first run through of the transferred data available with the installation of the software is also important. This does create a chicken and egg scenario, as you are trying to validate the data transfer at the same time as learning about the depth of the software.
The more you try out the software before the first training day using the advisers’ own data the more value the training day. You can continue to use the old software during this learning process and not put any real data into the new software, ensuring that any flaws in the transferred data can be identified during this period.
When you are ready to go live with the new software, data is again transferred and you now no longer use the old solution. As you are now adding new details and possibly amending existing details, it is important to note that it is much harder to change any transferred data so it is essential that proper testing is completed before going live on the new software.
Box one provides a case study of one such company, City Financial, that has experience of the data transfer process and found it to be a pain-free process.
Many people often ask about using data directly from the providers. While this appears to be an easy way to enter details into the new software it is fraught with potential anomalies that are hard to spot. There are several sources of the same fields for example client and address details. You can identify people through the National Insurance number which is nearly unique but which address is the correct one? An extra comma in the address can be interpreted as a different address. Worse still are missing lines and post codes. There are more problems trying to identify the partners of a joint policy and to collate them as a couple.
In the long run there is too much data massage involved in combining client and policy details from several providers to make it cost effective. It is easier to key in the data while checking accuracy and adding other useful details. Lists from the providers can help check that all policies are entered.
Unfortunately there is no quick fix solution when it comes to data transfer and if anyone tells you otherwise, then they are probably just after a quick sale! Of course the best answer is don’t get into the situation in the first place – think carefully about the software you need and what you need it to do. Remember cheapest is not always the best and the reverse applies too. Data transfer does require some time and effort to get it right, but if used well it can provide a good opportunity to clean up your database, as was the experience of City Financial. You need to take a long term view as in the long run sticking with software that you can’t use or doesn’t fit your needs will only cost you more business.