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A fresh perspective on adviser technology

We talk tech with Nathan Fryer, CEO of Plan Works, an outsourced paraplanning provider and adviser consultancy

As someone who is handed the keys to numerous advice firm set-ups, in the course of delivering outsourced paraplanning services, Nathan is well-placed to share some thoughts on preferred tools, good practices and what improvements tech providers can make.

Back office systems

As well as having experience of working with various advisers’ back office systems (Nathan’s clients will typically give him an administrator log-in if they wish him to work directly in their systems), Plan Works has its own task management system called Project.co. Nathan accessed the software via AppSumo, which charges business owners a discounted rate in exchange for feedback.

Project.co can be used for any type of business, and when it is rolled out more widely, Nathan thinks financial advisers would “really like it”. Teams on Project.co can chat, manage tasks, process client payments, share files and so on. Nathan values the audit trail of conversations, as team members can respond to messages sent from the system by email without logging in and the response is logged straight into the software.

As well as the functionality, Nathan describes the openness of the founders to feedback as a refreshing change. “They say ‘tell me, tell me, we want to know and we want to make this better for everyone’. A lot of the time these companies are faceless. You make recommendations and nothing comes of it.”

Nathan says personally he finds adviser-focused back office systems “so clunky, and they try to do so much that you end up not using half of it because it’s just too complicated”. Of those available, Intelligent Office is his preferred. “From what I’ve heard” he says, “if you can get ingrained in the software you can really do some great stuff with it. Suitability reports and things like that but you really have to have someone who wants to get their head into how it works.”

Cash flow tools

Nathan is a fan of CashCalc: “I know it doesn’t do tax and it’s been criticised for that. I know Ray is trying to get that implemented, but what he’s doing in terms of trying to integrate with other pieces of software, that’s got to be the way forward.”

We spoke about the oft-mentioned issue with rekeying. Nathan once counted having to key the same pieces of information in twelve times to different systems or for different purposes, and he laments, “with the money in financial services you’d think people would want to help with this stuff.”

Suitability profiling

As an outsourced paraplanning firm, Plan Works largely see just the output from risk profiling tools, however he advises his clients to make sure they don’t take it as read. “You put in the information and out comes the answer. There’s no discussion around it. Distribution Technology’s tool has three capacity for loss questions and if you say to an adviser, do you realise that the answer to those questions has absolutely no bearing on the result, a lot of people don’t know. They think it takes that into consideration, but it doesn’t.” In Nathan’s view, advisers should be sitting down with their clients, giving the result, then getting the client to explain in their own words what the risk rating means. “Then there’s never going to be any argument about ‘I didn’t understand what that meant’.

Remote working

Ironically, Nathan has seen more of his clients in the past 6 weeks than in the past 6 years, having shifted a lot of telephone conversations to the new norm of Zoom calls. “It’s nice to be able to see their reactions; all the non-verbal stuff that you just don’t get on the phone.” Nathan was quick to share tips on Zoom security in the early days, which has gone down well with existing clients and helped him pick up some new leads too.

What’s next in tech?

Of the new developments on the horizon, Nathan is most excited by the platform propositions from new players such as Fundment and Adalpha. “Some of the stuff they’re doing is game-changing; it’s phenomenal.” He adds, “if you’re sitting with a client in a review meeting you can suggest a portfolio rebalance, for example, and the adviser can click a button and it sends all the documents to the client that they need. They’ll get a message on their iPhone, and they can approve them with a fingerprint. You can also send a message to all your clients about a portfolio change and get a report on who has approved it and then send a reminder to those who haven’t.”

Despite his excitement for the tech and straight through processing however, Nathan is telling his clients to proceed with caution. “You need a lot of money to make these platforms work. You’ve got to have deep pockets.”

He also wonders if the pressure for slickness might have security implications. “We all want to do things as quickly as possible, but not at the cost of security.”

 


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