Hello, Natalie here. Mr P is off on holiday, enjoying the balmy 7-degree temperatures of somewhere in Scottishland, so it falls to me to update you all this week.

I had the genuine pleasure of attending the PA 360 conference in London a couple of weeks back. It was my first proper in-person conference for maybe 18 months, and a few of the people I bumped into said the same. It was a treat to be among real-life people in three dimensions, and to catch up face-to-face rather than screen-to-screen for a change.

One of the sessions I sat in on was about technology, and some of the new services springing up to help advisers make their businesses more efficient. On the panel were the head honchos from AdviceObjects (adviser back-office/CRM software), AdvisorStream (a digital content marketing service – I’m trying and failing to make my peace with the incorrect spelling of ‘adviser’) and Akoni, a cash management hub.

Note, I’m not name-dropping here to endorse these companies – I don’t know enough about them, and wouldn’t plug them even if I did. (And anyway, if there’s any plugging to be done it’ll be of our own stuff – more on that later).

But in amongst the quickfire panel session, a few things struck me. Perhaps unsurprisingly given everything that’s gone on, while in-person/hybrid ways of working were alluded to, the focus of these businesses is predominantly online and digital. Automation and APIs were themes that followed close behind.

Automatic processes and robust data feeds all sound like the kind of developments advisers have long been crying out for. As someone who’s job title is content editor I’m slightly daunted by the prospect of ‘automated content’, which calls to mind Google bots which can write articles in half the time and word count that I can, but that’s by the by.

THE ANSWER’S IN THE DATA

Setting that dystopian vision of the future aside, these firms seem to point towards positive developments in the quest for adviser efficiency. But it also goes to show the importance of the thing that underpins all good systems – the quality of the data.

John Porteous of Charles Stanley fame eloquently made this point on his recent HomeGames appearance. For those of you that stuck with us through the technical difficulties (and a huge thank you if you did), you’ll have heard John talk about how data is everything. He believes it’s actually data, not assets under management, that has become one of the most valuable commodities firms have at their disposal.

Good quality data is something that preoccupies us a fair bit too. It’s why we’re making a big push to collect a whole swathe of new data as part of Platform Analyser (#marketing). Platforms will be encouraged to share a range of new data points on things like how they implement ESG principles in practice, adviser support services, whether they’re compatible with Unipass, their approach to vulnerable clients, and more besides.

This is the biggest single data upgrade we’ve done in one go. So kudos goes to the platforms for being upfront and transparent with their data, and kudos too to all the advice professionals who have submitted their feedback and requests for new Analyser data points, which we are busy adding as we speak.

THE EFFICIENCY GAP

But before it all gets a bit too self-congratulatory, a quick word on where things stand efficiency-wise over in Provider Land. It’s not looking good. There are some truly ghastly tales of woeful service on social media. Closer to home, I talked to my dad last night who has been frustrated in his efforts to contact a certain closed book provider about his pension. Spending much of your week on hold without being any closer to an answer, or even getting through to the right department, is no fun, as advisers can no doubt attest.

All of which means there may well be a chasm emerging between the capability and efficiency offered by and for advice firms, and the provider models of old. The trouble is it’s advisers and planners that have to have the hard conversations with clients about why their seemingly simple requests can’t be processed in anything other than a complex and convoluted way. Advisers expect the same high levels of service that they offer to clients from the firms they work with. Anything else is inefficient, and out of step with the forward-looking approach they are taking with their own businesses.

AN EFFICIENT LINKING SYSTEM

  • The Treasury and the FCA (among other departments) are brainstorming how to govern sustainable investing, including disclosure rules, product labelling, rules for advisers and more. There’s also a good summary of the proposals here.
  • Ed Dymott has been talking to NMA’s Jack Gilbert about the inner workings of Benchmark Capital and the challenges facing platforms and networks.
  • Behold Transact’s latest quarterly figures – some very healthy inflows take the platform to over £52bn AUA as at the end of September.
  • It’s a lang cat special on today’s HomeGames. I’ll be chatting to public affairs supremo and fellow cat Tom McPhail about the financial services problems that refuse to go away, and why we all need to be more exercised about the FCA’s Consumer Duty plans. You can join us here at 12.30pm (it’s more fun live) or later on YouTube (more convenient, less fun).
  • I know we’ve been banging this drum for a while, but we would really love it if you could spare us your time and thoughts by taking part in our State of the Adviser Nation More responses mean more meaningful output, both for the advice professionals that get involved but also for the providers that develop their services off the back of it. (See my earlier point about the importance of data). Many nice things (some of which are actually pretty useful) await every respondent, including but not limited to the eternal gratitude of us cats. Take the survey here.

Your music choice this week is the ultimate ode to adviser efficiency, Daft Punk’s Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger. There is a game somewhere where you can try and match the lyrics line by line in time with the track, but this is not advised if you are trying to be productive.

Normal Update service resumes with Mark next week.

lang cat nat out.

Natalie