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Bridging the engagement gap

CyberAdvice “game” takes the preliminary pain out of financial planning

People scare easily. Faced with the stark financial realities of poverty in old age, never-ending mortgage payments or adult children still dependent on the bank of mum and dad, they baulk. Then they disengage. Then they’re gone.

The crushing realisation that even the strictest prudence may never build, let alone protect, a gilded family future can be a make-or-break moment in a person’s life.

These anxieties traditionally came to the fore during a “fact-find” – a laborious, paper-based process to determine how likely an individual was to reach his or her financial goals and attitude to risk. Mandated by compliance legislation, it did for financial advisers’ clients what Novacaine did for dentists’ patients – left them numb.

Manually drilling down on private wealth and lifestyle aspirations, or the lack of them, is raw, painful economic exposure. No wonder merely getting a person to sit down for a fact-find is like making a root-canal appointment.

Technology, thankfully, can deliver a more comfortable sensation.

One effective digital panacea is a game-like financial planning set of apps created by Leamington Spa-based software and consultancy firm Focus Solutions. Aimed at its slew of independent financial advisers, high street banks and mortgage-broker customers, the apps allow someone in the comfort of their office or home to “anonymously” conduct a private financial health check and see what they can do about the results.

Simply put, they compile an online profile using an avatar, pump in as many financial facts as they wish, adjust for their own cost of living and lifestyle parameters – annual holidays, entertaining, expensive pursuits – if they wish and produce a detailed monetary map to their desired financial future.

Featuring the latest Office for National Statistics data and Moody’s Analytics number crunching, the app generates realistic future scenarios so a consumer can discover what savings, tax and insurance measures need to be put in place to meet their goals.

Cash flow and budgets, cash reserves, ISA allowances, cost of debt, pensions, family income and savings goals as well as attitude to planning and general financial knowledge are all factored into the equation, letting the consumer see what taking action could mean to them.

According to Dave Upton, managing director of Focus Solutions: “This means that when a consumer decides to reach out to an adviser, it’s for a targeted, high-value interaction. Bridging the technology advice gap by giving everyone a better financial planning experience, in an environment free from sales pressure, builds not only goodwill and trust, but also more business. In practice, if the outcome requires a simple product such as an ISA, an execution-only sale could be concluded at the end of the journey.

“Once the consumer has completed the health check – whether they started anonymously or not – this allows them to connect with the adviser who provided the app, including the option to co-browse their findings.”

Enabling firms to deliver a refined digital client engagement experience, built on the rich industry knowledge the advisers possess, is a unique proposition. He adds: “Bringing the two together is a huge challenge in itself and one which most fintech firms don’t offer effectively.”

The apps meet the key accessibility tenet introduced by the 2016 Financial Advice Market Review, aimed at increasing consumer engagement and confidence in dealing with financial advice. Among other recommendations, the review says information should be made more easily available to consumers and those who advise them. It also highlights the use of “nudges” to encourage customers to seek support at key life stages.

We want to help consumers get a handle on their finances and see that it’s easy to take control

Acquired by Standard Life in 2011, Focus Solutions remains an effectively independent software house, specialising in helping advisers to punch above their weight in an increasingly competitive digital market. As a leading fintech firm tapping a burgeoning £20-billion market, Focus Solutions offers global customers omni-channel, lifetime client engagement via its core focus:360° technology platform.

Essentially, this is fintech and regtech in one system, and the underlying business platform includes mobile and web app services, a rich API (application programming interface), scenario modelling tools, back-office administration and practice management, call centre and operations management, management information reporting, data cubes, case-checking, and compliance monitoring.

From a corporate perspective, fintech platforms and apps such as Focus Solutions’ liberate both in-house and independent advisers from time-consuming administrative tasks, allowing them to deal with more consumers, more effectively, each day.

“It’s about giving consumers a space to model their financial futures and a way of reacting to how that picture makes them feel. We want to help consumers get a handle on their finances and see that it’s easy to take control,” says Mr Upton.

Mike Hearfield, head of digital at Focus Solutions, says the fact-finding apps take consumers on an engaging journey that ultimately leads to the right mix of technology and people to deliver the advice.

“People often don’t know what they want until they see something; even if it’s wrong, it’s all about getting the consumer to react. We guide them through three simple steps – financial foundations, planning and optimisation – and seamlessly build up an accurate profile that helps them discover their own needs,” says Mr Hearfield. “The consumer does not want to disengage at this point. They know they want to do something, but don’t yet know what that something is. Our apps let them see what that something might be.”

The individual apps and in fact the whole platform can be white labelled, rebranded or co-branded as enterprise versions or “shrink wrapped” for smaller firms. It can be hosted on-premise or as a managed service in a private cloud.

With larger institutions, integration work with legacy systems militates against culture clash since in-house IT crews still control their domain; the focus:360° platform merely sits on top of existing architecture. In some cases, leading financial services organisations roll out their own advice platforms at huge expense. Focus Solutions now allows firms to deliver the whole end-to-end advice distribution capability in one platform at a capability level, cost point and lead time that is unparalleled by any wholly internal build.

Focus Solutions has even provided a sandbox version for consumers to play in from their favourite device. Visit the financial engagement tool http://digital-demo.focus-labs.com.

For more information please visit www.focus-solutions.co.uk

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