“Do you want to be the sheep or do you want to be the wolf?”, challenges chartered planner and founding partner Mark Perkins to the adviser tech industry. “Do you want to be the one who brings in the innovation, like Advicefront or Embark, mixing it up a bit? Or do you want to be the person who follows everyone else and makes changes because you have to? Because if I did that with my business, I probably wouldn’t have many clients.”
Lockdown has afforded Hampshire-based planning firm Collperkins an opportunity to do a wholesale review of its processes and tech set-up, check out some alternative solutions on the market and work through the pain of getting existing systems aligned. “It’s making us focus more on technology and making the software talk to each other, and if what we have doesn’t do that then we’ll find something that does”, Mark explains.
As well as prompting the firm to look internally at its tech stack, Mark believes one of the positives to come out of Covid is that the planning industry will exert more pressure on tech providers and platforms for the paperless processes and electronic signatures needed to streamline the whole process. “I’ve got 80-year-olds on their iPads doing Zoom meetings. If you’ve just got to say, ‘press that button to sign that document’, it’s easy.” (You can download a copy of the NextWealth summary of platform document submission standards and use of esignatures here).
Collperkins are Intelligent Office users and despite some frustrations about its complexity in certain areas, Mark has yet to find “something substantially better that would warrant moving away from I/O”.
One system that has caught Mark’s attention as one to watch is PlanHappy; a software solution that was originally built bespoke for Joslin Rhodes Financial Planning as an end-to-end, fully customisable system that encompasses practice management, fact find, financial planning tools, cash flow modelling and everything a planning firm needs, and is now offered for license to other firms. As a straight-through system from a “very good company”, it appeals to Mark, and it solved its creator firm’s own frustrations with clunky systems that didn’t talk to each other. “However”, says Mark, “we know with I/O how much work has to go in to keep it up to date to make it tick, and the support is very important. How much resource are they going to throw at it?”
Client portal and onboarding
“We’ve been using the I/O portal from day one and it works brilliantly from a client perspective,” says Mark, although he adds that there are things that could be better with it. “Overall, having the portal is great.”
Collperkins are also looking at Advicefront’s onboarding tool, which they like, but lament the necessity to run two portals. “We’ve got a portal that works really well, we’d have to have a second portal to do the onboarding because Advicefront doesn’t do some of the things I/O does and vice versa.
Collperkins have used Truth for five years, which Mark describes as a “complicated system, but we know it pretty well”. The two-way integration with I/O Mark describes as “fantastic”. However, that isn’t without its drawbacks. “Even when it has 2-way integration – so push and pull”, Mark explains, “when you dig down the push and pull isn’t that. So, for example, it doesn’t push up the expenditure from Truth to I/O and nor will Truth pull up the expenditure from I/O to Truth. It’s these simple little things, however I believe it’s something they’re going to improve.”
As part of the current tech review, Mark has trialled i4C, and concluded that it will be worth another look in a year’s time, but at present the integrations don’t fit Collperkins’ needs.”
The firm has also looked at expanding its use of CashCalc, which to date they’ve used only for very simple plans. “On the face of it”, he says, “with their new portal the fact find does integrate with I/O although we haven’t tested it yet. They’re going to have other documents that you can upload to the portal, so we’ll be able to send the client agreement with DocuSign – that will take care of the onboarding.”
Lack of integration is a common complaint we hear from financial advice firms. Mark’s particular frustration is in being told by the software vendors that “these things all integrate and work and actually when you dig down they don’t. We can put people in space and do this fantastic tech with medicine, but we can’t get software to talk to each other consistently?” he questions.
A further frustration comes from having to pay for relatively expensive software licenses, and then pay again for the vital integration piece. “To me it’s morally wrong,” says Mark.
It’s a situation that leads Mark to feel that advisers are treated with disrespect by the industry at times. “We are the clients”, he says, “but the trouble is they’re so big in their marketplace and they realise, the platforms or providers, that to move is a lot of work. We’re trying to grit our teeth and say, ‘okay let’s make this work’. I know it’s going to be a lot of work for us and I hope it will be worth it in the long run for us and the client.”
“If the outcome is good though”, he concludes, “then it makes you quite excited.”
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