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Death of the "Adviser Work-bench"?

Like the enduring phrase "One stop shop" the idea of an all-encompassing "adviser work-bench" IT application has endured, it seems, in spite of all the evidence that it cannot be built.

Some systems, it must be admitted, get close. They provide a good core CRM, much in the way of advice workflow, and a reasonably comprehensive set of advice tools. Some allowed research to be plugged in to that process.

The challenges with these systems has always been configuration. In practice few adviser businesses have had the resources or organisational dedication necessary to analyse processes and convert these into work-flows and documents necessary to get the most out of these systems.

Also, most businesses have always had other systems as well. Various email systems, template emails, office documents, hard copy disclosure documents, brochures, non-standard policies, and business lines that fell outside standard procedures.

Life companies (and others, remembering that most insurance advisers sell at least one other major line, be it medical insurance, home loans, or general insurance) have not always offered good integration even with systems that they have promoted.

The marketplace has also cheerfully pulled away from the all-doing 'work-bench' approach. There are always focused new pieces of software which very often do a better job than the 'integrated' tool on the main system. Many elect to use them when they exceed the functionality and usability of the core system - creating hybrids.

Now platforms are fragmenting as well. The time was you could develop for Microsoft Windows and be reasonably happy with the market coverage. But Andriod and iOS are now so big that they need to be addressed. Advisers like the easy sharing made possible by fast, slim, colourful tablets. Clients engage with them well.

I don't think the adviser work-bench idea is dead. However I do think that at best it will be limited to a system selected by many advisers to do many tasks - while other applications are also used for many processes.

Quotemonster Statistics

Here are the latest weekly statistics from Quotemonster:

  • The average amount of life cover quoted in the last 7 days: $433,164
  • The average amount of trauma cover quoted in the last 7 days: $126,561
  • The highest Annualised premium quoted in the last 7 days: $39,218.50
  • The average amount of time the monster takes to quote in last 7 days: 10.14 seconds

Partners Life Technical Road-show

Partners are running a technical road-show:

To have a successful insurance business you need
clients who stay with you long term. A major cause of clients cancelling their
cover and leaving advisers is discomfort about the premiums they are paying.
Understanding premiums and premium structures is critical to properly advising
clients and keeping them happy.

This seminar will expose the various
premium structures and factors which cause premiums to increase, arming advisers
with the knowledge needed to properly advise clients and answer their

Jargon and Complexity

Is there too much jargon and complexity in the insurance industry today? Personally I am naturally cautious of measures to standardise as I think they are often covert calls to create guilds immune from the disruptive influences of new entrants. So developments such as standardised policy wordings make me suspicious - but increasingly I am coming round to the point of view that we do, indeed, have too much complexity.

Three examples:

Policies. According to standardised readability tests every single major insurer (including the ones that market direct to consumers) have sections of policies that would fail to meet the legal minimum for readability in many parts of the world.

Options. Yesterday my administrator spent the better part of half a day helping an adviser match quotes to quotemonster. He believed the premiums weren't right - yet we matched every single quote to company quote software. The problem? Complexity. The multiplicity of options and different names given to those options makes creating matching comparisons very difficult. Time consuming. That means expensive.

Jargon. David Whyte has written at his site about the arcane jargon of the insurance industry. Anyone who yearns for a slick consumer experience such as Apple delivers to the market can bet their bottom dollar that Steve Jobs would have started by bawling us all out for being useless. Link. The sales process couldn't be harder to master if we had actually designed it to be difficult, confusing, repetitive, humiliating, and expensive for all concerned.



TOWER Investments Goes to Fisher Funds

Congratulations to Carmel Fisher and her team for the acquisition of TOWER Investments. An impressive acquisition. Link. David Chaplin was right. It will be interesting to see where the rest of the TOWER business units go, not least of all, the life insurance business.


Claims Information Services

Andrew Hooker, a lawyer, runs this website to help bring his services to the attention of potential clients. While most of the information on the site appears to focus on fire and general insurance claims there are some references to life and disability claims too. Some of the background information may be if interest to advisers, and some of the cases covered in articles could be of interest to the wider industry. Link.

The Trust Placed in Doctors

Below a recent article on critical illness claims over at Money Marketing there was a comment that included the following:

"...how likely is it that there should exist on a client's medical record a piece of information important enough to affect an insurance claim but not important enough for the GP to have even mentioned it to the patient..."

I thought that in these cynical times such trust was gone. But it hasn't, and perhaps in every generation we have to remind people that Doctors are humans too. Just last week a friend explained to me how his doctor had not told him about a condition, but when he received his next set of test forms, the notes were attached. A quick trip to the internet and it told him there was definitely something seriously wrong.

Doctors are humans too.

The problem for the industry is that we would too quickly label the client as having non-disclosed if an application had been completed in good faith, the fact of the tests triggered a PMAR, and then the doctor's notes showed the underwriter that a condition existed.

How Long Must You Keep Your Records?

I was recently sent an email by an adviser asking how long he should keep old client records. In particular, those of clients that had cancelled policies some years ago. As usual, when faced with a hard question, I approach someone cleverer than me to help out. His excellent answer, only slightly edited, appears below:

First, it depends what laws the adviser’s business is subject to.

Some business and client records may be relevant, for example, to the Income Tax Act, the Anti-money Laundering & CFT Act and the Financial Advisers Act, each of which has record retention requirements.

Then there is also a question of business prudence. Destroying all records immediately following cessation of a client relationship might create a rather unenviable situation if the change results from client dissatisfaction and an unknown complaint about to head the way of the business. The absence of records may hinder or preclude a defence against the complaint. It is also possible that complaints may arise some years after cessation of the client relationship in respect of things done years before and, again, absence of client records may hinder or preclude a defence.

There is also the question of the business relationship with the product provider. Similar complaint and litigation risks could arise there that should be considered.

Thus, I believe the correct answer is:

• To correctly determine the laws and regulations applicable to the business and to then meet the resulting legal requirements

• To make a judgment about other business risks covering both retention and destruction of records, and to then make a decision whether there are any records that should be retained for longer than the minimum legal requirement, as well as determining whether those records no longer subject to a legal requirement to be retained should be destroyed to reduce business risk.

Rob Dowler is our go to man on all matters related to compliance, and is also the head of the Securities Industry Association and Safe Home Equity Release Plans Associations. He finished up with a challenge that many people will have "...never even thought about business and record retention in either of these ways – probably not that unusual, and not just with advisers, but businesses generally..." and asked me directly "Have you ever thought about your business records in such a systematic and analytical way?"

Well, I can proudly say - yes - but only by a whisker: at Chatswood we looked at the records issue just before Christmas because our little office was getting awfully cluttered and we need to make space to squeeze another person in. Our solution was not to decide what to throw away, but to make it easier to keep and retrieve. With so many of our records being stored electronically anyway we have pushed ourselves to do the same with the others. The originals can therefore be stored offsite allowing cheap and easy retention for a couple of decades of materials - allowing plenty of room for safety. Although it should be noted that we are not subject to the same record retention requirements as most financial advisers, a similar solution is likely to keep you out of trouble.