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Using virtual office support services

If you only need a few hours of admin or PA support per week, using pay-by-the-hour virtual office support services can make sense. Rob Kingsbury spoke to Debbie Condon about her company, Intuitive Support Services

Rob Kingsbury: When did you set up Intuitive Support Services and what demand is there for virtual PAs, administration and support?

Debbie Condon: I left my role as deputy head of operations at an investment management firm in order to set up Intuitive Support Services (or Intuitive Virtual Administration Services as it was originally called), in February 2013, with the aim of providing administrative support to IFA firms.

My background is managing operational and administration teams within the financial services environment, so I knew I had the skills, but the challenge faced was whether there was enough demand. The virtual support landscape is fairly unexplored territory only made possible in recent years following development in technology, not least of which is cloud-based technology, and people have to feel comfortable before they will use it.

However, with the internet enabling people to work together remotely, meaning they no longer need to be based in the same office, people’s mindsets are changing and the number of remote workers is growing rapidly, both as a means for people to avoid the stress and cost of a daily commute, and as firms see the opportunity to reduce their running costs. In particular, smaller firms use virtual offices for post and client meetings, realising that they don’t need to pay for an office for the rest of the working week, if they can work almost anywhere.

The natural progression to this is to use virtual support services, particularly for PA and admin work. You don’t have to have someone sitting in the office waiting for the phone to ring. It can be far more efficient and cost effective to have a virtual service handle the calls and admin and charge you only for the time they spend working for you.

RK: How different is virtual support to working in the same office?

DC: The support offered is no different to the support offered if one of our staff was sitting in the adviser’s office. It’s traditional support using the advantages of modern technologies. Except, we can’t make the coffee!

We can offer advisers the support without the overheads of employing someone full-time, when they might not have full-time requirements. It’s flexible because advisers can use the service as much or as little as they choose. By outsourcing work, they can focus on fee-earning activities and reduce the unnecessary costs of employing full time staff. They only pay for the support they need and use.

The objective is to shield the adviser from as much admin as possible in order to free up their time, whilst keeping them closely informed on everything they need to know about. Every adviser is different. They all have different needs and want to work in different ways, which is absolutely fine. It’s a case of finding out what they want support with and what works best for them.

RK: What support would you provide for a typical adviser client?

DC: Most advisers ask for support on a regular basis, whilst others call when they have a project, or perhaps need expertise in a specific area. We allocate one PA/administrator to each adviser, who gets to know them, their business and how they like things done. Although we work remotely, we’ll integrate as one of the team.

The work we undertake can be from first point of contact for clients and product providers, through maintaining back office systems, pension transfer administration, running email marketing campaigns, to processing and monitoring new business to completion. Our aim is to absorb advisers’ non-advice related work, enabling them to spend more time concentrating on their clients.

We work across the adviser market, with independent and restricted advice firms, for small firms as well as advisers who are self-employed under a Network where they need to supply their own admin support.

We’re representing the adviser and their firm, and clients don’t need to know we’re an outsourced office. Calls can be answered in the adviser firm’s name, and we’ll issue correspondence on firm letter heading, using preferred type-font and layout requirements. Our team have direct dial phone numbers for advisers to contact and we can arrange for numbers with the adviser’s own area code, if required.

We work on secure hosted desktops, and utilise cloud-based technology for file sharing. For staying in touch with the adviser we can also use Skype, FaceTime and web conferencing software. We’ll also learn any systems required in order to support the adviser’s business.

It is not unusual for adviser firms to outsource compliance, IT support, paraplanning, marketing, appointment making, etc. Why not also outsource admin and PA support, if they don’t need a full time person? If they need two hours a day, then it makes sense that’s all they pay for.

RK: How do you charge?

DC: We charge one flat hourly rate, and advisers simply pay for the time that their PA/administrator has been working for them, plus disbursements, such as postage. We keep it simple; so one hourly rate covers everything.

Visit the Intuitive Support Services website

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