Fifteen years ago, if you suggested to anyone that it would become commonplace for people to constantly take pictures on their phones and share them with the world online people would have laughed. Then Mark Zuckerberg invented Facebook and Steve Jobs created the iPhone.
Being connected is part of everyday life for the overwhelming majority of consumers. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and WhatsApp are all tools that people use regularly to communicate with friends and family.
When people want information they go to online services and predominantly via their mobile phones. If a business doesn’t have a presence where their clients and prospective clients are looking for information they are going to be far less visible.
This makes it essential for a modern advice firm to have a highly functional client portal, which fully represents the services the firm offers, and can be available when your advisers are not.
Just as different types of social media apps are used for different things, an adviser’s client portal needs a wide range of different features within it. Some of these are must-haves for a viable portal service whilst others are highly desirable additions.
What to look for
Probably the most important function of a good client portal is enabling a client to see all their savings and investments in one place and have these updated automatically via the online valuation services from platform and life companies.
Certain things should be hygiene factors and if they are not included within a portal, I would say it’s not fit for purpose. These include secure communications, i.e. the ability to send messages, reports and other documents securely between the adviser and the client, so there is no need to use email and all such communications are kept together in one place.
A general document store is also essential. This will include everything shared between an adviser and the client together with policy documents, transaction notes, etc. This should also enable clients to securely keep copies of all key personal information, for example copies of passports, wills, medical information they may need when travelling, home and car insurance policies, and breakdown and maintenance contracts. Clients should also be able to decide which documents the adviser can see and which remain private.
The best client portals will now include a virtual meeting capability to communicate with clients and also Open Banking aggregation. This will allow consumers to see their short-term financial information side-by-side with their medium and long-term investments to deliver a truly holistic picture of their financial lives.
The most advanced systems will now help clients identify the ways they can achieve economies in their financial affairs and other ways in which they might make better financial decisions. These can be powerful tools to identify further advice opportunities.
Always there for your clients
An adviser’s client portal is a way for the firm to be available to clients whenever the customer wants their information. Frequently these services are most used at times when advisers are not normally working.
Before COVID-19, this was predominantly in the morning before work or early evening on weekdays, i.e. when many clients were commuting. It remains to be seen how this pattern will alter as a result of recent events. FTRC are currently conducting research into this.
Client portals are also very popular over the weekend so, unless advisers wish to spend more time working weekends, an adviser’s portal should be the first place their clients turn outside office hours. But, if the adviser doesn’t have one, clients will look for other information services online. This inevitably means they will come across other organisations who are offering client portals.
Increase your firm’s value
I am aware there are some firms who don’t believe their clients use technology and therefore argue they don’t need to invest in a client portal. The challenge here is how do you attract new customers? If an adviser is looking to sell their business, potential buyers are taking an increasing interest in the demographics of the customer base and this can significantly impact prices paid.
It is really valuable for advisers to provide a demonstration of the client portal capability in the public domain area of the website. The vast majority of consumers will check out the firm’s website before approaching them as prospective client, so a demo of the features they can access from your client portal should also be a must-have for your website.
Ian McKenna is the Managing Director of FTRC.
The views expressed in this article are that of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Aviva.