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Mark Polson on Aegon's high-wire act

Mark Polson on Aegon's high-wire act

‘We’ve come a long, long way together, through the hard times and the good’, sang Camille Yarbrough, little knowing that a bloke that used to be in The Housemartins would one day turn her song into a global big beat hit. 

Fatboy Slim in turn didn’t know it, but there is surely no more fitting sentiment for the journey the platform industry has been on in terms of replatforming.

I know this is a subject we’ve returned to again and again over the past few years in this column, but this time it’s different. There must have been something in the water, because May 2018 saw two of the biggest replatforming programmes finally shuffle, blinking, into the light. Yes, Ascentric and Aegon both took the covers off in May, following on from Aviva’s painful experience in January. Together these exercises represent more than £50bn of real people’s money, so they are not to be sniffed at.

Long time coming

We’ll deal with them in order of seniority. Ascentric has been at its programme for quite some time. There have been many bumps along the road, for all sorts of reasons. 

It’s always tempting to be dismissive when these things drag on, but the truth is that Ascentric was trying to do things that few, if any, platforms have done before. For example, it was trying to keep control of the front end of the system – the bit that advisers are used to using – rather than taking the normal user experience that its new tech provider Bravura Solutions supplies. That’s doubly tough, because lots of important, ‘making-it-work’ type kit is stitched into the front end. None of this is simple.

Also, Ascentric came from a bit of a stockbroking heritage, back in the mists, and prides itself on its dealing desk capabilities. Core platform systems in the UK are great at many things, but integrated share dealing is not one of them, and this has added to the complexity.

So Ascentric’s journey hasn’t been easy. One of the things that has carried it through, I think, is the insistence of its leadership that a safe replatforming is better than a quick replatforming. Given that it left ‘quick’ behind a long time ago, it needed to deliver ‘safe’ in spades.

From what we can see, it’s managed that. Now it’s early days, and only the first phase of a programme that will last to the end of the year, but we’ve heard few if any moans about the migration so far. There are a few crunch moments to come – for example, big income batch runs – which should be over by the time you read this. If those are fine, then Ascentric can take a breath and congratulate itself on delivering for its first tranche of advisers, and move on to knocking the remainder down during the rest of the year.

While I’m on the subject, it’s important to note that replatforming isn’t a point in time thing. The huge projects that get to a go-live point are just the beginning. You can’t be confident that the project has delivered for several months after it’s gone live, and some operations experts would say that it takes a year or more. 

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