I am writing this on an aeroplane, and I can’t help but notice that the guy next to me is writing his own article, which appears to be called ‘Religious rhythms and flexible capitalism’. I’m thinking of offering him a swap, as his sounds much more fun than a column on financial technology. But he looks a bit serious, so I probably won’t.
And in a way that’s a bit of a shame. If we had WiFi on board this aircraft, and if I could do a demo for this guy (who, let the record show, is eating both his free biscuits at once in a sort of biscuit stack or biscuit club sandwich formation, which is wrong on every conceivable level) on the varied bits of software and technology that adviser firms are asked to navigate every day, I reckon he would have a newfound respect for the advice profession.
The topic I want to write about this month is one that was suggested to me by a salesperson from a well-known and much-loved investment platform. The topic is ‘obsolescence’, and now I’ve looked it up I find it’s to do with the natural shelf life of a product or service before it becomes obsolete, and not what happens to me when I ignore the medical profession and order a steak instead of a salad.
Advisers reading this may deride salespeople from providers, but good ones meet dozens if not hundreds of companies every year and develop a great sense for what’s a genuine issue in firms and what isn’t.
Our man in this instance was talking about what advisers were looking for when discussing potential usage of his platform. His take was that for the first time, one of the highest priority requirements advisers he was visiting had was that they should be able to clearly identify the emergency exits and be confident that lighting would guide them to those exits at floor level.
To put it another way, advisers have been so badly bitten by recent high-profile problems at platforms – we all know which ones – that they now enter into potential strategic business partnerships, not with a clear heart but as they might take on a lease for an office, with the break point in mind.
I think this is important, and kind of sad. Companies are now so jaded by their experiences – and not just from platforms, as we’ll come on to in a minute – that they are almost calling the game a bogey before they start. That’s a world away from a prudent ‘never go into a room you don’t know how to get out of’ approach.
Hearing about habits
At the Lang Cat we’ve been doing some research recently into adviser technology attitude and usage. Platforms are part of that, but not a big part – it’s more about other software and the day-to-day life of financial planning practices in the back office.
What’s important is a quote from one guy we talked to (sorry, it’s all guys in this piece) about having changed his back-office system. Here’s what he said: “I’d rather go out of business than go through that again.” Before anyone starts second-guessing, this was completely genuine. The poor sod was traumatised.