Aamina Zafar looks at the technology solutions available to ensure secure remote working for firms of all sizes
Financial advice firms do not need to spend large sums of money to ensure their technology is fit for working in the new normal. That is the view of top fintech boss Ian McKenna, who insists advisers may just need better training on their current back-office technology and customer-facing IT to ensure they can efficiently and safely work remotely during the current pandemic.
Mr McKenna, who is founder and director of Financial Technology Research Centre, says: “Advice firms must go on a fact-finding journey to discover the holes in their firm and then address them. When it comes to technology, they need to assess whether they actually need a new system or just better training.
“Installing and changing systems can be a long and painful process and often it is not needed,” suggests Mr McKenna. “Often, advice firms buy a software system but only use a small portion of it and that is where better training can help.
“Financial advice is not a simple process, so its software is not going to be as simple to use as social media. That is why training is important, because powerful tools in untrained hands can be very damaging,” he says.
His comments come as the UK re-entered lockdown at the beginning of 2021 – with the nation being urged to stay at home again. However, the reality is that working remotely has become permanent for many firms for almost a year. Many advisers work alone or at small companies, which means they need to make sure their platforms, security and software are the best they can be.
That is why Mr McKenna urges all advisers to improve their security by using a comprehensive client portal when communicating with clients or carrying out business.
He says: “Using a comprehensive client portal is important because it provides end-to-end encryption. Sending an unencrypted email is a bit like sending a postcard in the post – anyone who wants to read it can and the only people who want to read it [apart from the intended recipient] are those who want to do bad things with it. We all know that fraudsters have sophisticated tools to sniff out personal information, so advisers must take extra steps to protect themselves and their clients.”
But advice firms do not need complex systems to ensure they can safely conduct and record their online meetings with clients. In fact, Kusal Ariyawansa, Chartered financial planner at Manchester-based Appleton Gerrard Private Wealth Management, insists advisers can easily document their conversation with a simple Zoom or Microsoft Teams subscription.
He says: “For more than a decade, I have recommended the recording of all meetings with all prospects and clients, beyond the initial meeting. Recording such conversations is essential because we, as humans, are programmed to respond rather than to listen. Lockdown and the migration to online meetings have made this transition inexcusable. A simple Zoom or Microsoft Teams subscription will allow you to record conversations and retain them for compliance purposes, as well as for listening to the subtle messages being said. Once complete, these need to be stored safely with easy access. For access and safety, you could consider a cloud-based provider such as Microsoft Azure, Amazon Web Services or through your back-office provider.
“With such technology, safety becomes a major ongoing concern and AES-256 grade security is a must for any firm. Basic internet security and antivirus software can be purchased through McAfee or Norton. All external devices should be encrypted through Bitlocker and any online webservice through Boxcryptor. The cost for all of these is reasonable.”
We all know that fraudsters have sophisticated tools to sniff out personal information, so advisers must take extra steps to protect themselves and their clients
Selecting the right software system can be a daunting process. That is why Gemma Siddle has urged IFAs to put the client experience at the heart of any decisions.
Ms Siddle, a Chartered financial planner and director at Newton Aycliffe-based Eldon Financial Planning, says: “In terms of client-facing tech, it is important to put the client experience at the heart of any decisions. Tech should be there to aid planning and not hinder it, so it’s not good if your clients are stressed before they even start the video call. We previously used an alternative software but switched to Zoom as soon as it was end-to-end encrypted to facilitate this experience; we haven’t had any clients abort using it and any small queries such as ‘you’re on mute’ can usually be sorted out with a 10-second phone call. I had an 87-year-old lady use it confidently, so don’t be ageist!”
With IFAs working from home for the foreseeable future, ensuring client data is kept safe is a priority for everyone. Aj Somal, Chartered financial planner at Birmingham-based Aurora Financial Planning, says this can be done easily by taking simple steps such as using antivirus software and having a shredder.
Mr Somal adds: “Always making sure laptops have uploaded the latest software updates and antivirus software is an important consideration when working from home.”
Aamina Zafar is a freelance journalist