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Mark Polson: Platforms need to up their game in 2018

Mark Polson: Platforms need to up their game in 2018

A weak and watery sun creeps over the horizon, stifling a persistent, hacking cough (because droplet infection from an anthropomorphic personification really means something). And those of us lit by its sickly light adjust our scarves, turn our collars up against the cold and hurry about our business, safe in the knowledge that the calendar ticking over to a new year is no more than a convenient attempt by our ancestors to place some kind of meaningful order on a random, pointless and terrifying universe.

With that in mind, a belated Happy New Year!

So let us take a look at some of the things we can expect over the next few months. For the start of the year is a time of renewal, or it is if you believe that sort of thing, and so we have the right – the right, dammit! – to expect something different in 2018 from what we got in 2017.

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And, after some years of stasis, I’m starting to believe that we just might. In this month’s column I’ll look at the reasons why, and guess at some themes we might see through the year to come.

Something different

The first thing to say is that after some years of banging on about replatforming – as long-suffering readers of this column will know all too well – some of these interminable programmes will finally come to an end in 2018. 

Ascentric is not far away from pulling the trigger. Alliance Trust Savings has a working version live and will accelerate this once it has shaken off some of the servicing issues that are still bouncing around. Aviva still has some work to do but will be there this year.

Most strikingly, Aegon, very quietly over Christmastime, migrated some 75,000 customers and a couple of billion quid from the old Cofunds Investor Portfolio Service book onto its new version of Aegon Retirement Choice. From what we can tell so far, no one died, so this has to count as a pretty satisfactory first step. 

There are others too. 2018, then, is a crucial year. For providers who have not yet nailed their second-generation platform (because that is what most of this stuff is all about), life just got a bit bleaker. While no one was delivering, it was easy to be blithe and defer programmes on the basis of no pressing commercial imperative. 

But that’s not the case any more. Any platform that has not settled on its next phase now has two-to-three years of being behind the curve, as those who were already sorted accelerate, and those who have just got through the pain start to derive some benefit and puff their chests out. 

In general, we reckon you will see more new functionality, innovation and kit in the coming 12 months than you have in the past 36.  Robbed of the excuses of Mifid II and the General Data Protection Regulation, constant pensions legislative change and all the rest of it, product teams will have to do some proper work for a change.

Oftentimes new stuff is not a blessing. I’ve lost count of the number of developments I’ve seen that were clearly a great idea on a Powerpoint slide but, by the time they got to market, were of use to neither man nor beast. I am hoping this year will see a raising of the bar for new developments in this regard.