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Secret IFA: Behind the times

Secret IFA: Behind the times

I recently bought a new car, OK a nearly new car, the financial planner in me cannot cope with taking the first year’s depreciation hit. It is almost 10 years since I last bought a new car, the last time it was for cash, and boy have things changed.

This time I was offered a personal contract plan (PCP), which seemed an attractive option. When I ran the numbers and compared it to my current running costs it seemed to be a ‘no-brainer’ as they say, and it doesn’t half help with cash flow.

But I am not here to extol the merits of buying nearly new or to push PCPs. What interested me was how the motor industry has embraced paperless transactions. While they still produce new car brochures, I was told they encouraged customers to go online to review and spec a new or nearly new car. The websites I visited were far more comprehensive and engaging than any printed brochure, although I don’t suppose they will completely drop printed matter at the enquiry stage.

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Where they have really applied themselves is in everything that follows a customer’s decision to buy. From that point on I saw practically no physical paper, with all the forms I needed to sign completed electronically. All my verification was done online too. It was quick, painless and oddly pleasant.

In short, the credit application, subsequent acceptance and agreement, and even the car tax application, was all done online. The whole process from the point I said “yes, I’ll buy it” to then owning the car took around 25 minutes – and I don’t recall a single piece of paper being involved. A £30 grand purchase involving credit agreements, insurance, road tax and so on was done in a matter of minutes.

It was so easy, and then I thought just how hard it is to buy a pension, or an Isa, or some other regulated investment product, and it hardly feels that we’ve made any significant progress. We still need to obtain ‘wet signatures’ more often than not, and it is hit and miss whether a particular provider will accept electronic money laundering verification.

People outside financial services simply don’t understand why we make life more complicated than it needs to be.

I was listening to Rory Sutherland a few months ago. He’s an advertising type at Ogilvy & Mather, has a column in the Spectator and has done at least three Ted talks. I’d crept into an audience of advertising types because I wanted to hear him speak, and to my knowledge I was the only financial services type there. So I prickled with embarrassment when he mocked (mercilessly) the financial services sector for all the barriers it puts up to prevent people doing business. That’s right, we are a laughing stock.