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From Aegon to Zurich, how your platform's tech upgrade is going

Who is sprinting and who is stumbling in the race to upgrade platform technology? We take a look at how platforms are progressing, what the problems have been and whether they have been resolved.

Last March, New Model Adviser®  looked at every platform’s progress in their various efforts to upgrade technology to move to a new system. Coined as ‘replatforming’, this process has already become infamous. Old Mutual’s aborted replatforming project has already cost it more than £330 million, and, as we will see, Aviva’s botched relaunch is pushing the provider to crisis point this year.

We thought it was time to update readers on where platforms are placed in the great replatforming race.

Last March, New Model Adviser®  looked at every platform’s progress in their various efforts to upgrade technology to move to a new system. Coined as ‘replatforming’, this process has already become infamous. Old Mutual’s aborted replatforming project has already cost it more than £330 million, and, as we will see, Aviva’s botched relaunch is pushing the provider to crisis point this year.

We thought it was time to update readers on where platforms are placed in the great replatforming race.

Aviva

First out of the blocks this year is Aviva, which launched its new platform in February. However, it is fair to say the move from Bravura to FNZ technology is far from complete.

Problems have emerged in the three months since the new platform was launched. Advisers have, at various times, been unable to see portfolio valuations, received false warnings about a 10% drop in their clients’ portfolios and had income payments to clients delayed. At the time of writing, Aviva’s website listed 13 problems that were not due to be fixed until the end of May.

According to a spokeswoman for Aviva, the migration has cost the company ‘low tens of millions’. It also expects to make further payments in the form of redress. This is now being dealt with by a specialist ‘remediation team’. ‘We will look at any claim for redress on a case-by-case basis and so would not comment on an overall total cost,’ a spokeswoman said. 

Ascentric

One of the platforms close on Aviva’s tails, but hoping for a smoother execution, is Royal London-owned Ascentric, which is moving to Bravura’s Sonata technology.

When this move was first announced in 2013, Ascentric had hoped it would be completed by September 2015. Two and a half years later, and we are still waiting for the perhaps unfortunately named Project Accelerator to be completed. But, as Aviva has shown, maybe it is not always a good idea to aim for speed when completing a platform technology move.

Ascentric has made progress this year as a raft of users were moved over in the first phase of replatforming in April. ‘We are now working on the remaining phases,’ a spokeswoman said. 

One problem with delays is replatforming can end up costing more. Royal London did not disclose exactly how much it has spent. But the company’s most recent financial statements said £31 million was added to the bill in 2017, on top of a £44 million write down in 2016.

Ascentric chief executive Jon Taylor (pictured) even confessed to New Model Adviser® last year it had been more expensive than expected to move technology. He argued Ascentric was ‘not an outlier’ in this respect. ‘Given the complexity and sophistication of the solution we are going to provide, it looks like value for money,’ he said. Compared to the litany of errors Aviva is suffering, a few delays will probably not unduly worry Ascentric.

Old Mutual Wealth

Almost exactly a year ago, Old Mutual Wealth spiced up the platform technology story when it dropped IFDS and its Bluedoor technology in favour of FNZ.

It was a bold decision for a company that had already spent £330 million on the project. It was also an understandable one. The project had been beset by delays and overspending. With a planned market listing under the Quilter name due later this year, Old Mutual Wealth, whose chief executive is Paul Feeney (pictured), could not afford to let high costs and delays linger.

So far, the move to FNZ appears to be going much smoothly. A spokesman said the new platform should be launched in late 2018 or early 2019, and clients should be moved soon after. He also said the project should be completed within the £120 million to £160 million budget set last May.

All looks good for now, although there was a cursory warning in the prospectus for Old Mutual Wealth’s float. ‘Budget overruns, delays to the launch timetable or other challenges to implementation may occur. In the past, the group has encountered challenges to upgrade its IT infrastructure. Most notably, a previous re-platforming programme was terminated in 2017 due to increased costs and timescales.’

Aegon and Cofunds

Joining in the replatforming fun this year is Aegon, which moved Cofunds clients onto new technology in the first May bank holiday.

Aegon bought Cofunds from Legal & General in 2016 in a deal worth £140 million. At the time it was clear technology would be an important area for the new owner of the UK’s largest advised platform.

The new system is part proprietary and part outsourced to providers, including GBST, which supplies the Composer technology behind the Aegon Retirement Choices platform. So far 400,000 Cofunds users have been moved over to the new system, accounting for around £37 billion of assets. All this has cost Aegon £80 million.

Initially things seemed to be going off without too much of a hitch. But now problems have begun to surface, echoing the litany of technology errors still being experienced by Aviva. The main issue, for the moment at least, appears to be that advisers cannot log into the new Aegon Platform.

An Aegon spokesperson said that the company was adding extra telephone lines to reduce support waiting times. 

'We are aware that some advisers are struggling to activate their account and this is leading to high levels of demand on our contact centre as advisers call in for support,' he said.

'We planned for high levels of demand but are continuing to add extra telephone lines, extend opening hours and automate parts of the process to bring down waiting times. We’d ask that advisers bear with us and we aim to resolve any access problems quickly.'

The real test of Aegon’s new technology will be its new features. It plans to finally give Cofunds clients access to exchange-traded funds and investment trusts, as well as offering a wide range of paperless services. Aegon Retirement Choices clients are also due to be moved over to the new platform later this year.

Alliance Trust Savings

When we wrote about replatforming last year, the then Alliance Trust Savings (ATS) chief executive Patrick Mill said a launch of the new platform provided by GBST technology was ‘imminent’. But we have heard little else since then.

Mill left the company in November last year. Although some 120 advice firms were using the new platform, it seems many users have yet to be moved. The platform has been beset by complaints according to FCA data, in part due to ongoing spending technology as well as a major restructure and relocation of staff.

Is ATS working on something to solve the delays? As noted above, it is not always a bad idea to delay technology changes if it means the platform launches without a hitch. But advisers will only have so much patience with the promises of something new.

Fidelity FundsNetwork

Fidelity has been quietly moving FundsNetwork clients to Bravura’s Sonata system since early 2014. Updates have been few and far between. But this at least means there is no major issue to report as yet.

‘Fidelity FundsNetwork remains happy with the performance of Bravura’s software,’ a spokesman said.

‘As this is a progressive upgrade programme, driven by our desire to be the leading adviser platform, we have no fixed date for completion.’

Standard Life Aberdeen

With not one, not two, but three platforms, Standard Life Aberdeen should know all about the perils of platform technology.

Parmenion is treated separately from the larger Wrap and Elevate platforms. A spokesman confirmed there was no change to what they said in 2017. It would continue to use its own technology and would not move to FNZ to be on the same page as the other two platforms.

There is also little change when it comes to the Wrap and Elevate platforms. But Standard Life has announced a string of proposition changes, such as clearer portfolio reporting and improving the integration of Elevate with advisers’ back office software.

David Tiller (pictured), head of adviser and wealth manager propositions at Standard Life, said the company ‘prioritised stability and process enhancements’ in 2017, but was now developing further. ‘This has all been against the backdrop of delivering the large-scale regulatory change demanded by Mifid II and GDPR.  With this work now nearing completion, we have the capacity to focus firmly on development.’

Transact

It has been a busy year for Transact, as parent company Integrafin floated on the stock market in March.

Has this changed its approach to technology? Not at all, according to chief executive Ian Taylor (pictured). He said the use of in-house technology allowed the company to pursue its own path and ‘has been a very significant factor in our success’.

‘As all code is developed and written in-house, this component of technology cost is the cost of employing around 70 developers. Hardware costs are standard,’ Taylor added.

‘And, as code is written and refreshed on a continuing basis, there are no enormous “replatforming” costs. And the risks of “big bang” changes are avoided.’

AJ Bell

Another platform lining up a float at the moment is AJ Bell, led by chief executive and Sunday Times Rich List member Andy Bell (pictured). Again, this has not changed its approach to technology.

In fact, AJ Bell does not plan to change much at all when it comes to technology. ‘We completed our replatforming project in January 2014. Now, we have a fully scalable technology platform at the core of our business. 

‘It goes without saying that we continue to introduce upgrades and enhancements to the tools and functionality available on the platform. But this can be done without the need for a major overhaul of our technology,’ a spokesman said.

Novia

Novia will continue to use GBST for its administration and trading technology for the foreseeable future. It spends around £1 million a year on development to its technology.

Zurich

Zurich is another of the providers that does not believe it needs to make a change to its existing software plans.

Alistair Wilson (pictured), Zurich’s head of retail platform strategy, said: ‘Our platform is already powered by the latest technology and therefore we have not needed to carry out any large-scale upgrades. However, to ensure our platform remains at the technological forefront for advisers and their clients, we continue to release regular updates to enhance the design, functionality and user-experience.’

James Hay

No update from James Hay on what they told us last year when it comes to technology. It plans to stick with its own technology because this means it ‘does not have to wait in a queue to do big technology releases’.

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