Billy Burnside, managing director of not-for-profit company Criterion, says when his company improves its services, the financial services industry feels the benefit.
This is because systems, platforms, processes and methodology, usually so disparate and inconsistent, can be standardised and unified through Criterion so that different parts of the sector can work together, talk to each other, and transfer information more quickly and easily.
By doing this – creating standards and governance across the network of companies that use Criterion – the organisation aims to drive greater efficiency and process in the financial services sector.
“Trust is at the heart of it; organisations who work with us know that we have no commercial bias or agenda other than to support the industry we work with. Operating as a not-for-profit organisation helps commercially, and our track record of over 30 years underpins our role as a trusted ‘industry utility’,” he says.
“It also helps that we have been around for a long time, certainly in the life and pensions space – we are the default go-to organisation where they have a common process problem.”
The result for financial advisers is speeding up of processes, and easier accessibility to information – from letters of authority, to rates and illustrations.
But what does it take to actually get 300 diverse, variously complex, and continuously developing companies, such as platforms and software providers, to agree, collaborate effectively, and share information so that outcomes make sense and can be kept relevant to all parties in the sector?
That process, Mr Burnside goes on to describe, is a careful balancing act of multiple interests – between the sector and the regulator, between competition and collaboration, between companies advancing rapidly and those who are slower, and even, he says, between art and science.
This year Criterion, originally part of Origo, became an independent standalone organisation. Its journey started 30 years ago when the provider community got together and identified common areas where it needed solutions in terms of standardisation that no single company could achieve alone.
Later, a similar desire to collate and standardise data surfaced around transfers and re-registrations, and Criterion was awarded the TRIG initiative (The Transfers and Reregistration Industry Group – comprising representatives from 10 major industry trade bodies, such as the Association of British Insurers). The work it did around this became known as Star (speedy transfers and reregistration).
While much of Criterion’s work is led by the industry and geared at finding solutions to common problems, government-led regulatory change compliance is also part of its work.
The Retail Distribution Review, for instance, saw Origo and subsidiary Criterion working with the government to recognise how those regulations were going to be implemented and what processes and products would be affected.
Mr Burnside recounts: “We engaged with advisers, software companies and providers to ensure that these standards were made available ahead of time, so that all systems and processes were RDR-compliant in advance of the regulatory date.”