New technology offerings are enabling financial planning firms to lift their disclosure standards well beyond current requirements, according to the head of a specialist technology provider.

Julian Plummer, managing director of Midwinter Financial Services, a specialist firm providing financial planning software, says they are experiencing more demand than ever.

“Disclosure is now more important than it’s ever been. Technology can really speed up the advice process,” he says.

Plummer talks about their latest product for financial planners, AdviceOS, which they unveiled around eight months ago, having been in development for around three-and-a-half years.

A key feature of this system is its ability to allow advisers to cross-reference many of the thousands of financial products available in Australia. This was also one of the more time-consuming parts of compiling the information, with analysts having gathered official data from the many providers of financial products.

He says its generation of detailed analytics is another particularly powerful function of AdviceOS. Specific portals of the system can be made available to clients, with financial planners or other authorised users able to view various statistics that map the experience of the user. For instance, these can show which pages the client has viewed and how much time they have spent on various sections of the site.

Advice often starts with cash flow

Plummer also explains how AdviceOS assists financial planners wanting to take an active role in monitoring their clients’ cash flow activity. Using an Application Protocol Interface agreement with cloud-based accounting software Xero, clients and their financial planner can keep track of outgoing expenditure over a specified timeframe.

“We’re trying to make the advice process more dynamic,” says Plummer.

In terms of uptake among financial planning licensees, he says it has been particularly strong among non-bank aligned financial planners.

This is also being helped along by the Future of Financial Advice (FoFA) regulations, something that Plummer says they anticipated would create even stronger demand for a system like AdviceOS. “It was a case of right place, right time with the FoFA regulations,” he says.

Through the legal lens

“A key topic is this intersection between disclosure and technology in the financial planning space, we’re talking about how the delivery of information to clients is potentially going to work in the future,” says Jon Ireland, partner at legal firm Henry Davis York.

While products such as Midwinter AdviceOS take a holistic approach to streamlining the advice process, Ireland believes there are other ways financial planners can use technology to add greater value to their clients.

He refers to the concept of ‘layering disclosure’, such as using technology to rebuild and deliver disclosure documents.

“The current regulatory guidance that ASIC has out, which is in its regulatory guide 221, it just doesn’t contemplate the full range of delivery channels,” Ireland says.

“It contemplates SOAs via email, but it doesn’t go so far as to look at different channels, those newer than maybe the last time the regulatory guidance was updated.”

He refers to platforms delivered online, such as YouTube, along with mobile device-enabled applications as areas that could be more widely used, but are not currently recognised in financial services legislation.

Leveraging technology

By leveraging such technology, he sees other ways for advisers to increasingly interface with their clients, both now and in the future.

“Not for personal advice, but for more general information that might be consumer educational info, such as in a pre-engagement basis before they walk in to see the adviser,” Ireland says.

Asked whether he sees many advisers already leveraging technology in this way, he says: “I’ve seen different styles of information delivery among clients I’ve acted for.

“They are thinking…about how to use these different types of technology more and more,” he says.

However, Ireland also acknowledges the challenges, including a natural reluctance among financial planners to be blazing a trail into the unknown.

“My general sense is that it’s a challenge to be pushing the envelope – you don’t want to be an outlier,” he says.

“With nervousness comes a bit of a conservative attitude sometimes. But I do believe there are some untapped opportunities in that space.”

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Glenn Freeman is a senior journalist for Professional Planner. He has around three years’ experience in financial services journalism, having also covered broader areas of business including M&A activity and energy. His journalistic experience includes five years spent abroad, where he was editor of an oil and gas title in the United Arab Emirates along with other in-house and freelance projects, which included stints in motorcycle and automotive journalism.