Your IndustryOct 17 2012

Hidden parts that deliver value

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ByDan Russell

There are many ways in which the development of technology in the financial services sector will help advisers prepare for the implementation of the retail distribution review at the end of the year, but I believe that improvements to research procedures and planning tools will potentially make the greatest difference.

It now sounds as unbelievable as the time, up until the mid-1990s, when we did not start hyperventilating when we were without phone reception for more than three minutes. As recently as a decade ago the term ‘research software’ used to refer to a compact disc filled with product details that would be sent out monthly. Inevitably the sheer amount of information on these discs meant that as soon as they were created they were almost guaranteed to be out of date.

The FSA’s guidelines for the post-RDR standards of independent and restricted advice, with the focus on the importance of research, make that CD sound as outdated as stone wheels on a car.

Constant evolution in the world of planning tools means that major players in the market are now battling it out on how many tens of thousands of products and investments they cover, how many seconds it takes to return results and how advanced the audit trails are when produced by one of their searches.

However, no matter how advanced the research tool you are using is, please bear in mind that it needs to be used as part of your investment advice process, rather than as a substitute for it. Technology has improved leaps and bounds in the past decade, but there are parts of advising, sales and research which will never become automated, such as truly knowing your client and understanding why an investment solution which looks perfect on paper is not always perfect for in real life. Moreover you should be clear about what you want from technology. Help with investment or product research is one thing, but what about tools to assist with cash-flow analysis, budget planning, pension shortfall analysis and other such services that offer tangible benefits to clients - benefits they may be willing to pay for? Rather than just using research tools for their own sake, an overall planning process that powers a firm’s service proposition to clients is essential.