Having a clear technology strategy is key in providing a clear and consistent client service and knowing where and how technology fits together for financial adviser businesses can be a challenge. In this piece I will outline a simple framework to help make sense of the market and create a vision of what good looks like.

Client Portal

In an increasingly digital world there is a recognition that businesses need to broaden their service models and facilitate more online engagement. Ideally this needs to stretch beyond simple access to platforms and deliver higher levels of functionality such as document exchange, banking data, updating fact find information and secure messaging. There are a number of portal services emerging from specialists including those with end consumer focus to offerings from CRM providers. In a recent meeting with a client and software vendor I asked what percentage of clients they expected would engage with them on a portal – 80-90% was the response.

Front office

The growing emphasis on financial planning has fuelled the take up of tools and services that help advisers create and share financial plans with clients. Ranging from the simple to the more complex thet allow firms to engage with prospects and clients on a more emotional level and to demonstrate advice is something, which will help them achieve personal goals. From a connectivity perspective you should ideally be looking for these tools to be aligned to any centralised investment proposition and to share data and outputs with the back office.

There are some interesting developments in this space including giving clients the ability to interact with these tools on lower level using mobile devices, particularly tablets. This is a great way of moving your business into a digital age.

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Middle Office

This area is all about your trading relationships. In the market today the focus here is on platforms but there might also be relationships with DFMs, protection providers, mortgage lenders and not forgetting those companies who still look after legacy arrangements.

The two key requirements to target in this area are straight through process and data sharing. How easy is it to do business with the provider and can they cut down re-keying of the same information? This challenge seems to have been with us for years now but slowly we are seeing the provider and software businesses get their act together and offer better integration services, such as account opening. I am sure we all want to see that accelerate sooner rather than later.

Back office

Time may have moved on from when Mik Cons, then of 1st Software, said to advisers in 1996 “You can run your business on Adviser Office”. These simple CRM databases, which took the place of the word processors have grown up and are almost unrecognisable from those days. Workflow and automation are now increasingly at the heart of these solutions together with increased levels of e-Services.

New offerings are also emerging, one coming with a very tightly integrated platform offering or another based on generic enterprise level CRM application. Adviser firms are well advised to step back and consider if their current supplier is best placed to support their growth and to meet increasingly high client service expectations

Document Management 

Last but not least, the advice process still generates large amounts of documentation. Storing this in a solution where items can be easily linked to clients and/or their financial holdings can have a significant bearing on overall productivity. Furthermore, getting access to these when you are mobile is a great feature and being able to publish certain files through to a portal really enhances the client experience. One word of caution here and that is with cloud solutions comes data storage costs so be sure you know what your exposure is when working with systems based on that approach.

Modern advice businesses look very different to their counterparts of just a few years ago and we have not even mentioned delivering advice online or self-service investment. In any successful advice business you will find a strong technology model that delivers a compelling proposition and an engaging customer experience. Holy Grail I hear you say? Not so, it can be done and the tools are out there.