Rethinking the basics
We're in the process of preparing for a revamp of our website. The basic look and structure hasn't changed much in years, although it is probably an unusual site in terms of the sheer volume of new resources and guidance that are being created for our community of dedicated IFAs, on a regular basis.
Website technology has moved on a great deal since we originally set ours up (2005!). Now, people don't just use PCs or Macs to access the interweb, they also use their smartphones and tablets, and presumably a growing range of smart devices - there is a need for the website itself to be able to 'sense' the kind of device that is being used to view it, and adapt accordingly. We will be implementing one of these new reactive designs, which provide the user with a more flexible access to information.
As with all such developments, we're hoping that there won't be any glitches, but it's impossible to be completely sure about that point!
In the midst of planning these changes, several things occurred to us on a more general business level...
Adaptive technology & the customer
Clearly, there is a balance to be struck in terms of service delivery. An IFA or financial-planning firm cannot be all things to all men, and it is impractical to reinvent the wheel for each and every individual client, unless the work is of such a big-ticket nature that the approach is justifiable. Equally well, there is no great merit to the practice of forcing a client into an inflexible advice model which may not be especially relevant to his or her needs. There is a tension implicit between these two extremes, and we're not sure that the best solutions are those that can be sketched on the back of an envelope.
Thankfully, there are some solutions which are scalable across differing client segments, once our due diligence has been conducted appropriately. The ValidPath Investment Proposition would be an example of such a facility.
The process of restructuring is informative
Taking apart one's website, rivet by rivet, makes one think more carefully about how the structure works, or doesn't work. Sometimes, one encounters issues which are a product of simple organic growth over an extended period of time - there are unintended consequences, which a little advance planning might have nipped in the bud. This phenomenon is, in microcosm, not dissimilar to what happens in businesses and large organisations.
Businesses grow (all things being equal). They start out as small enterprises - some now substantial enterprises began on a kitchen table. Over time, if the business owner is doing more things right than wrong, they'll grow. At some point, the management will wake up to the fact that they now have a large business, but they're trying to run it on the old basis. Things creak and groan, and progress happens only painfully.
Restructuring the website is in a way a metaphor for what we need to continually be doing in relation to our financial-planning propositions. How can we better deliver the end result? How can we hook the right kinds of customer into our offering? How can our processes be better engineered to suit the client, and get from A to Z as efficiently as possible? Is, indeed, our current service structure confusing and impenetrable to our clients?
When the emphasis is on people
I have griped quite a bit recently about one large, very powerful organisation which seems to have developed a way of using information which almost entirely ignores the role of people in the advice process - both as givers and receivers of decision-critical information. I think this issue will continue to be a live one, until the nature of regulation changes in order to account for the way in which human beings work together.
The redesign of a website is, in part, about how we place our emphasis. An old-style, static offering might be conveying the message that customers have (somehow) to slot into someone else's sausage machine, a bit like a funeral at the local crematorium. A more flexible, responsive offering might instead be suggesting that the business is open to the idea of interacting with people's needs and demands in ways that might suit them better.
If you're a ValidPath Member with a website...
Every page should show the magic strapline: "XYZ is an Appointed Representative of ValidPath Ltd which is authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority" (If you have not updated the regulator from the FSA, then do so immediately!)
Avoid attempting to sell products using your website - the more specific you get, then the more detailed the risk-warnings need to be.
If you are planning any updates, please get ValidPath to approve them before they go live.