One of the most significant changes in the financial services marketplace has been the reduction in the number of advisers. There are now less than 70,000 advisers where five years ago that total exceeded 250,000. This opens up a considerable business opportunity for legal practices to fill the gap.
More importantly, legal practices will not be faced with the hefty marketing costs associated with this business. The practice already has an established client base and the confidence of its clients, a prerequisite for any financial services business.
However, there are risks. Compliance is a challenge. To fall foul of financial services regulations or provide poor advice could cost the firm precious legal work. Furthermore, trading financial services products still requires skills in marketing and selling, skills not traditionally associated with the legal profession.
One way of tackling these challenges is to use technology.
Client data should only be entered once in the business process. Client information in a back office system should be able to move electronically into a point of sale system, and from there to a quotations service, into the proposal form, be validated and transmitted to the insurance company. Information from the insurer then needs to flow electronically back to the adviser's back office system.
A well-managed client database also enables market profiling – identifying specific groups of clients for product mailings, or as potential delegates for a seminar. This reduces the risk of annoying clients with irrelevant mailings.
Point of sale systems are designed to help the adviser to work with the client to solve their financial services needs. Using technology to help plan pensions or investments or to undertake tax planning, removes the adviser from the role of salesperson.
Technology at the point of sale looks professional and presents an image of value for money, overcoming resistance to commission or fees. It also ensures every sale meets compliance requirements.
When it comes to product selection, best advice is almost impossible without the help of technology, but there is an abundance of effective tools available. In particular, the
Exchange provides the ability to compare client-specific quotations from 50 top companies.
The key product to enable electronic trading is the Common Trading Platform or CTP. Developed by the Exchange, the CTP comprises a Videotex access module, a Windows-based quotations module, an electronic library for forms and product inserts, a data dictionary and EDI enabling software. It is designed to be seamlessly integrated into a point of sale or back office system. This enables the completion of the business by re-using data already compiled through the advisory process.
The latest release of CTP delivers the tools to make electronic trading a reality.
Investment bond quotations
The latest quotations service for investment bonds has been supported by 10 companies. It should be of significant benefit to legal practices.
This will enable insurers to output good quality documents.
Electronic product support
In the new year a number of insurers are planning to deliver products with enhanced benefits that are only available if they are traded electronically.
A new high speed network
From the end of 1995 the Exchange will provide access to their services via a new 14.4kbps network. This will improve the speed of printing key documents and provide potential for further electronic marketing opportunities.
The latest version of the CTP will automatically be issued on CD-ROM to advisers with CD-ROM drives. The CD avoids the need to load forms and product features libraries onto a hard drive, saving space.
Trading electronically is different to trading manually and requires everyone to re-examine the business process. Staff will need to be trained and advisers will need to rethink how they deal with clients.
So what is the next step? The best advice is to talk to SIFA. Its specialist knowledge of solicitors involved in financial advice makes it an invaluable port of call. In addition it is working closely with the Exchange and a number of software companies to ensure that its own software developments take advantage of the latest trends and requirements.
You should also talk to the Exchange about the CTP and the quotations service.
The Exchange now provides access to over 450 products and enables comparisons and key features documents to be obtained in minutes, where manual procedures can sometimes take days.
Technology and regulation has opened up a window of opportunity for lawyers to enter the financial services marketplace and expand. However, that window will not remain open for long. Those who are grasping the opportunity will quickly fill the vacuum.
SIFA is on 01372 721172; the Exchange is on 01483 776775.