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Back office: It’s all about the data

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Adviser firms need to be able to control their data if they are to be confident that the information on which they make their business decisions is accurate, argues Roland Rawicz-Szczerbo, sales director at Time4Advice

As anyone in this industry knows, running a successful financial advice business is challenging. The business needs to deploy an array of skills at the front end to secure and bring on new clients and in the back office to ensure that the promises being made to clients are being delivered.

Further, the business needs to make sure that all activities completed in support of the agreed service proposition are being captured so that it can prove it is doing what it has promised to do should it be called to account by the regulator. The old adage of “if it’s not written down, it never happened” becomes a business fundamental when the regulator is knocking at the door!

Given this, it never ceases to amaze me that when we visit prospective clients, almost without fail their data is in a mess. By delving into the business it soon becomes apparent as to the reasons why. In a nutshell, the back-office technologies being used by the financial advice businesses are so out-of-date that they have become barriers to efficiency rather than enablers.

Most back-office systems were developed in the mid-90s to allow firms to record sales made, to reconcile the commission received and to provide valuation capabilities so that firms could provide some form of ongoing service. Pre-RDR they worked well in support of this transactional business model.

However, post-RDR, a fundamental shift in adviser business models has occurred, changing to a more service-orientated business, putting the client at the centre of everything the firm does. At this time of massive change, most back-office systems have hardly changed at all. The reason, proprietary systems developed over 20 years are almost impossible to ‘on develop’ without damaging legacy code and causing the system to fail.

As the demands of the industry continue to grow, so the challenges facing businesses become insurmountable forcing firms to compromise and bring in technologies to compensate for the failings of their back-office systems. Let me explain…

Where the trouble occurs

Almost without fail, the firms we meet use a back-office system that they have had within the business for many years. Some of the larger firms support more than one back-office system, having grown through acquisition. Interestingly, these firms have made little, if any attempt, to aggregate data into one central system.

The reason is that they are not confident in their data and with good cause. Our experience shows that almost every back-office system is populated with garbage data due to inconsistent data input spanning many years. This is the reason why so many firms spend so much time creating manual reports for their clients, the management team, their PI provider and the regulator.

The problem is compounded significantly as businesses look to deliver on their client promises. Much of the demands made of a client-centric business involves effective and relevant communication, yet back-office systems are not designed to support even the most basic of CRM functions such as effective client segmentation, the creation of marketing lists or even an ability to communicate with clients from within the system.

The consequence of this is that we see businesses buy other software packages such as MailChimp, Hubspot or DotMailer to support their digital communications. We see other packages being acquired such as Survey Monkey to support their TCF obligations by garnering client feedback. The problem with the proliferation of these systems is that firms must now try to maintain multiple systems containing client data. Just keeping this data in sync becomes a full time job.

As if this was not bad enough, the problem is further compounded as firms fail to invest in the training of their staff, which causes them to be used poorly. The consequence of this behaviour is that the staff revert to software that is familiar and comfortable and so begins the proliferation of Microsoft Word templates, Excel spreadsheets and Outlook. By this stage the firm is in trouble. The operations team has lost control of the data and getting any meaningful management information becomes impossible without spending hours and sometimes days on reports. It is little wonder that so many firms struggle to fulfil their obligations to their clients and the regulator.

So what can be done?

There should be one truth when it comes to data. A single source of information that drives all client, management and regulator reporting, all communications and all marketing and compliance support.

Unless a business is able to control its data and to run its business in confidence that the information on which it makes its decisions is accurate, then it is exposed to attack from its clients and, of course, the regulator. The entire business is at risk and the directors and partners, potentially liable for vast sums that may have to be paid in compensation if for whatever reason the firm’s PI insurers feel that the business is in breach of its terms and conditions because it was negligent in the way it managed its data.

Although this seems a deeply pessimistic view of the world, it is very real and widespread.

The product plug 

When we launched Time4Advice we wanted to address these fundamental issues, which is why we built CURO on Microsoft Dynamics CRM. Microsoft Dynamics CRM is an Enterprise grade technology stack used by over 4.5 million people globally with over 1 million in Financial Services. It benefits from over $2 billion of annual R&D investment and as a result is future proof.

CURO fully integrates with Microsoft Office and is delivered as part of Outlook. It is Cloud based and accessible from any device and from anywhere in the world. It offers unprecedented access to Data and can be fully personalised around our client’s businesses rather than force them to work the way the software works. Business process automation transforms a firm’s business efficiency and guarantees that the promises made are delivered on. It delivers a 360 degree view of the client, which for many firms is a first.

Each of our clients has their own CURO system hosted on the Time4Advice private cloud on Rackspace Servers in LON3. Data security, business continuity and full system back-up is included as part of the service and we believe the standard of security offered cannot be bettered.

If anything written above has any resonance I’d like to hear from you.

Visit the Time4Advice website

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