Expert: Barry Neilson, Novia. Facilitator: Martyn Laverick
- There has been no real progress in IT systems being able to integrate with each other
- The ‘stop moaning and find work arounds’ approach to better integration with firms developing workarounds
- Platform winners of the future will be IT-driven and not product driven
- Business plan v financial plan? You should have both
- Finding key people is still a challenge
IFA Tech solutions
Overriding feedback from the room was that the issues highlighted in The Lang Cat State of the Nation 2022 around IFA tech solutions not being able to integrate with each other shows there has been little improvement in this area over the last few years.
Back-office systems came in for criticism for their lack of ability to integrate as well as not being able to do some of the basic tasks expected without having to either pay more or run a project to get the data needed.
There is difficulty dealing with legacy providers who have no interest in improving their systems, while dealing with multiple platforms also made integration harder.
An interesting observation from the audience is that we moan about these issues but have to learn to live with what we have. No business in the room was big enough (or stupid enough!) to build their own platform or back-office system. Therefore, the best approach was to find workarounds.
Some good examples of this came out of the discussion. One firm now employs a part time person to focus purely on IO and help the business find efficiencies. The view of the business owner was that this has paid dividends. Another company is investing in IT reports that can help pull together information from the various systems it uses. A further firm changed its cash flow tool to one that was integrated into the back-office system it uses. The view was that it is better to have a fully integrated tool that meets 80% of its clients’ needs rather than have a standalone one that could deliver more but can’t integrate.
The view was that these workarounds will continue to grow as businesses look to take control of the problems and not rely on the IT providers resolving the problems.
All of the above drives inefficiencies and hence cost into the IFA business.
Traditionally platforms have been driven and developed either by providers or by firms with a product/service to sell.
This has led to the position we are in at present, where the development and pricing of these models is still driven from a product perspective, rather than from a client experience/journey point of view.
The view was also shared that many of the newer platforms, which took market share from more traditional platforms are now behaving like the platforms of old as well.
New entrants into this space were discussed and the overriding view was that the winners of the platform space in the foreseeable future will be those that are coming at this issue from an IT perspective. Software driven, not product driven. This would allow greater integration and more importantly greater flexibility and customisability in this space.
Business plan v finance plan
The discussion was around intentionality i.e. what steps are businesses taking to constantly improve the efficiencies of the business.
All firms had financial plans in place as you would expect, but not everyone had business plans. Some of the examples given earlier were from firms who had put in place a process to improve aspects of their business and to find solutions to the day-to-day issues that they face.
It was agreed that whist firms did work on resolving issues it was often reactive to a situation rather than part of an intentional plan. Firms that had taken proactive steps in this matter found it was bringing significant benefits to their business.
One of the roles that has been highlighted as key to a growing firm and one that is proving difficult to source is that of the Operation Director, although the role this individual will play will vary considerably from firm to firm based on their size of operation.
It was agreed that this is not an ‘office manager’ role but one that can assist in the ongoing improvement and efficiencies of the business across all aspects. Given the skill set required, these individuals are often ‘expensive’ but were viewed to be key individuals going forward when a firm is growing.
It felt as if there was a point when this individual was needed and this was around the 3RI mark and c £1.2/1.4m t/o. These are not hard figures though - just a sense from people on when this role became critical.
- The type of audience is important here as no business is of the size to create its own platform, back-office system, planning tools etc
- Firms are therefore beginning to realise that to become masters of their own destiny they need to accept what the industry currently offers and find workaround solutions to the problems, rather than expecting these larger businesses to make changes for them
- It would be useful for firms to be able to share their workarounds to help other businesses with common issues and maybe share costs in these workaround solutions