The world in your hands
Password protected online administration centres are going to change forever the way that insurance companies service advisers and end clients. Ian McKenna explains how so called IFA extranets will improve the running of your business
The communications revolution, of which the world wide web is an integral part, is forcing changes across all businesses but few more so than financial services. Because for the most part financial services products are intangible, they are ideal for commoditisation over the internet and other emerging technology platforms. Equally these new technologies deliver massive opportunities to slash costs by comparison with previous manual processes.
A good example of this is the changes that can be seen in the way an increasing number of companies are delivering information and services to their IFA partners. Not so long ago if you wanted literature from a life office or a valuation on an existing policy this would almost inevitably turn into a phone call to the providers, followed by the documents arriving by post in a day or two, or if it was urgent a fax or even a visit from your local broker consultant.
Enter the extranet
Requests for information are often time consuming and wasteful for both IFAs and product providers, and it is no surprise that increasingly life offices are often turning to the internet as a way of distributing information and documentation. Dedicated extranets, which can only be accessed after passing through a security layer that ensures only those who are entitled to can, are being used to give IFAs access to what they want when they want it.
The extent of facilities offered by different life offices varies greatly between the leaders and the laggards, and hard though it may be to believe there are still a small number of companies which have yet to offer such secure dedicated services. In the early days such extranets tended to concentrate on delivering marketing information and training tools. More recently focus has turned to transaction services that can make a real difference in cutting costs for life offices and providers.
So what differentiates the best from the rest in this increasingly important area of service to IFAs, and what should advisers be expecting to see in the coming months to further improve business efficiency?
When looking for market leaders a number of websites obviously spring to mind. Scottish Amicable, for example, has created some excellent tools to support the sale and distribution of its flagship 21st Century Retirement group personal pension product. This shows that when sufficient thought is given to how to complement the IFA business process, extranet websites are an ideal way of creating a higher level of service that benefits not just the life office, but also the intermediary.