Phil Quin Conroy is still relatively new to the role of MD of Iress’s UK business, having taken over in June. I took the opportunity to meet with him to get his views on the UK financial advice market and adviser tech in particular.
Phil believes that tech enables financial advisers to run businesses efficiently and to deliver excellent client outcomes. He says that tech supports four jobs in a financial advice business: data collection, analysis and recommendation, implementation and review. “Tech is joining all of those steps of the process together.”
I challenge Phil on this point. At NextWealth we are constantly hearing from advisers who are frustrated that the tech just isn’t joined up.
Phil is quick to defend adviser tech: “If you take a step right back there are a lot of positives. We’re in a rapidly evolving environment that isn’t standing still. There is significant regulatory change and changes to customer expectations. The focus in the past few years has been on the digital piece, how to deliver a better proposition to clients and interact digitally – that’s where the client experience is.”
On the specific question about stitching the component parts together, Phil says that “one of Iress’ strengths is in the ability to stitch together.” Iress works with several large wealth managers and has a tech solution to support portfolio management. We’re told it works well and is a differentiator.
One of the trends we’ve been watching is the return to single source, where a financial advice business will use a single provider for its technology infrastructure. This is different from an integrated systems approach where components are bought separately and a data integration layer brings the pieces together. The theory with single sources is that while the best system might not be used for each function, the overall infrastructure works better together.
Phil says that using a single provider has its advantages. He says that Iress ensures that data can be used across modules, in other words, no re-keying. Phil says “advisers are looking to deliver less complex advice in a scalable way. To do this they will need to leverage data feeds pulling in funds and platform data into Xplan.”
At the same time, Phil says that “Iress is open. We recognise that our software needs to integrate with other solutions, such as portals like Moneyinfo and cashflow tools like CashCalc and Voyant so that tasks don’t have to be performed stand alone on a disconnected piece of software. We are trying to do more of that. We’ve built integrations into Xplan where we’ve integrated data through APIs.”
Quality of integrations is the area that advisers have been most critical of back office systems, Iress in particular. I hope Iress stands true to its promise to be open.
Lessons from Australia – reducing business risk
Phil moved back to the UK from Australia in June to take over as MD of Iress UK. We talk about his experience in Australia and in particular the outcome of the Royal Commission into Misconduct in the Banking, Superannuation and Financial Services Industry. Phil says that “gaps emerged in the data firms were collecting and how that was getting stored and acted upon, particularly from a risk management perspective.” He says that Iress “has started to pull data in from different sources to report against KRIs [key risk indicators]. In Australia there was evidence that fees were being charged without a service being provided. What other areas of potential risks can be identified? There is an opportunity for advisers to have a data strategy to know what data they need to collect, what they need to store, what they need to analyse. They can then make decisions on the back of that.”
Iress is developing tools to help firms identify and manage risks in their own business and also in firms they are looking to acquire.
Phil is excited about the UK adviser market and adviser tech in particular. “We see technology being able to do two things: help run a better business and deliver better client outcomes. Thinking about those two lenses drives a lot of our thinking. What is the business efficiency angle? How we help financial advice businesses deliver a better proposition to a client. A lot of that is the on-going service. We focus on helping firms deliver on the expectations of on-going service.”
Changing customer expectations
Phil recognises that “client expectations are changing off the back of tech changes in other industries. It becomes the norm and the expectation that information should be at our fingertips.” Phil notes that these advancements can often result in cost savings. “Firms can save cost and that can be invested elsewhere. That frees up capacity to deliver value-add interactions and on-going services rather than lots of time being spent to deliver a basic service to meet basic requirements.”
Shifting shape of adviser market
I ask Phil his views on the future of the financial advice market in the UK. On consolidation, he says “some of those larger businesses are gaining scale but there are also a collection of smaller businesses. Part of what they are doing is helping those firms to run better businesses. There is a cascading effect. There is definitely room for those businesses to grow.” Phil quickly reminds me that Iress does not exclusively support one model over another and says they are winning a lot of new clients, from smaller regional firms to larger ones.
Plans for Iress
Phil joined the UK business at a time when it is already performing well. It had a strong year last year, driving growth in profits and revenues for the group. Phil acknowledges that they had a solid year last year. “We have a strong presence with the desire to continue to grow by focussing on our clients. We have a diverse set of businesses and solutions here. Off the back of that we think that nobody can do what we do.”
He adds that Iress will “leverage our footprint to deliver more of what we have to help our customers achieve their business goals.”
Phil is clearly passionate about culture and the people that work for Iress. When I arrived at the London office for our meeting (pre-Coronavirus lockdown I should add), he enthusiastically described some of the work they’ve done globally to redesign their offices and the impact that has had on productivity, retention and collaboration. He is looking forward to an office revamp in the UK and mentions several times the strength of the team within Iress and the pride they take in helping their customers do the important job of advice and wealth management.
“We focus on our people to support them to deliver great levels of satisfaction to clients. We think about how we can improve usability and knowledge sharing to deliver more of what we have to our clients.” We look forward to seeing what this people focussed leader of an adviser tech business will do with Iress in the UK.
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