Customisation is a great strategy if it makes customers feel valued and increases business.

But, in financial services, a lot of the customisation going on behind the scenes is more or less tinkering with technology around the edges to accommodate a business’s nuances. It is not delivering a better client experience or improved outcomes. It is only adding to cost and complexity.

With the Quality of Advice Review set to enquire how technology can be used to further access to advice, the question of customisation versus configuration has never been more important to the industry.

Customisation and plug and play are completely incompatible. Plug and play depends on the standardisation of data in order for systems to speak to each other and seamlessly integrate. Customisation, on the other hand, quashes collaboration. It ostracises businesses and keeps them in a cycle of customisation, stifling growth and progress.

Software integration is based on mapping fields or application programming interfaces (APIs). As soon as a business begins customising fields, they reduce their ability to play with others. For example, something as seemingly insignificant as adding Chancellor to the salutation field, or changing the standard order of salutations so Dr goes before Mr, can cause integration failure.

Lego is beautiful

A simple way to illustrate the advantages of configuration versus customisation is Lego.

Those colourful, plastic building blocks originated in Denmark in 1932 and have enjoyed unparalleled success and longevity due to their standardised sizes and interlocking studs on the top and tubes on the bottom.

The Lego brick has remained unchanged since it was patented in 1958.

Lego in Demark and Lego in Australia is the same. Everyone knows how to use it. Pieces from different boxes and models can be mixed up and still work. Children (and adults) can put stickers on their Lego, store it in different containers and mix and match pieces but they can’t change the products fundamental design and functionality.

With submissions to Treasury’s Quality of Advice Review due on June 3, and the government specifically asking how technology can improve advice accessibility and affordability, there is an opportunity to talk about the benefits of standards.

The journey to affordable advice starts with standardisation. Other sectors and industries embrace standardisation. Many adopt ISO standards, which are internationally agreed by experts. Whether it’s ISO or another body, there are globally accepted standards for making a product, managing a process, delivering a service and supplying materials.

Standards strengthen consumer protections but they also help businesses operate more efficiently, be more sustainable and reduce failure. Consider the potential benefits of a standardised framework for fee disclosure statements, consent forms and risk profile questionnaires.

A framework that included three expert approved options would give advisers greater guidance and certainty. It would also help the regulators. In the event of a client complaint, advisers could say they followed the framework and used approved forms and questionnaires.

If advice is to lose its cottage industry stigma and become a bona fide profession, it must pursue and embrace standardisation. This is the foundation of efficiency.

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