Providers across the asset management industry have adapted their processes to help advisers cope with the Covid-19 pandemic.
However, many of those companies are unsure whether the measures they are implementing now will survive the world after lockdown.
One of the trickiest areas for advisers during Covid-19 is the issue of ‘wet signatures’, that is, the requirement to get a physical signature on paper from a client before any action can be taken.
The view of the Financial Conduct Authority is that wet signatures are not explicitly required, so scanned signatures are fine, but beyond that, the regulator stated the validity or otherwise of signatures is a “matter of law”, and urged providers and advisers to be aware of the legal position.
One adviser, who did not want to be named, says this presents a problem if the client is elderly, as it is presently against the government’s guidelines for an adviser to meet that person.
The adviser says that his client is over 70-years-old and in the at-risk group, meaning they are self-isolating. The client had a request, which was to make a withdrawal from their portfolio in order to pay for care.
The adviser wished to do this, but the platform required a wet signature from the client, rather than the electronic signature that was on file.
The adviser could not find a way around this, and in the end the platform in question insisted on phoning the end client, to get the authority.
- Covid-19 has created issues around wet and electronic signatures
- Many providers and platforms have adapted to seeking electronic signatures
- Post-pandemic, there is likely to be a longer-term adoption of some of these measures
The various different adviser platforms have adopted different approaches.
Toby Larkman, chief commercial officer at the Embark platform, says: “[We are] highly automated and as a result we can open and operate an account without the need for wet signatures in almost all circumstances.
“We only have a small number of scenarios where signatures are required, generally driven by third-party needs, and we have adjusted our processes to limit the need for wet signatures further.
“We are aware of the increasing risks of scams and fraud attempts and have reviewed our processes involving wet signatures alongside our financial crime specialists to ensure that we minimise the need for them without placing the customer or ourselves at risk.”
Going digital pre-Covid-19
Some platforms have been moving in this direction before the crisis hit.
A spokesperson for the Aegon platform says investments that have been made in recent years have contributed to the company becoming more digitally focused, but recent events have accelerated this work.
The spokesperson notes: “With a heavy expenditure on online services and an ongoing investment to digitise already in place, the current situation has accelerated our processes around wet signatures.
“We’ve yet to conclude exactly what we’re doing longer term, but our key driver will be working with advisers to prioritise what is most important for them.”