State Super Financial Services (SSFS) is putting the finishing touches on a $50 million overhaul of its processes and systems in a move it says will significantly enhance the delivery of advice through its 160 financial planners across the country and enable it to begin looking outside its traditional NSW public sector client base.

SSFS financial planners already hold, in total, about 60,000 client meetings each year, and they work without paraplanners – SSFS financial planners write their own statements of advice (SoAs). An objective of the program was to use technology more cleverly to support this way of working.

But the fundamental objective of the program, which ran under the descriptive codename of Future Operating Model, or FOM, was to put the client at the centre of the process so that they can interact with SSFS on their own terms.

The changes were driven by SSFS research that fund about half of its clients want to deal with the business face-to-face in the first instance but then will use other channels, including phone and online, to interact.

SSFS managing director Michael Monaghan says the project took about three months longer than planned and cost about 25 per cent more than budgeted – a far cry from the “two-by-two-by-half” rule of thumb that says most major projects take twice as long as expected, cost twice as much as expected, and deliver half of the expected benefits.

It began in September 2013, and will be fully completed in January when a new investment platform comes online.

Challenging the established way of doing it

General manager of financial planning for SSFS, Sean Bradley (pictured), says there was nothing intrinsically wrong with the advice produced by SSFS but the established way of delivering it “clearly wasn’t going to carry us forward”.

“You need to look externally at the environment in which you are operating – that’s clients, employees and the legislative and the technology environment – and if we didn’t keep up with that, we’d be left behind,” Bradley says.

“There’s many a successful business – and Kodak always gets run out as the example – that are no longer in existence.”

Bradley says there were four distinct parts to the review: customer relationship management (CRM), advice, registry (platform) and phones. All parts of the chain have been integrated so that an interaction with any one of them flows through to the others.

Bradley says advice, CRM and phone systems have been rolled out across the SSFS business with the last regional office, in Perth, switching across in late May.

He says SSFS is now bedding the new systems down, and introducing the processes that the new systems require.

A defining feature

Monaghan says the decision to continue providing advice without paraplanning support was a defining feature of the project. He says “a fairly compelling reason” was that never in its 25-year history has the business used paraplanners.

“We’re heading to a digital world, and [paraplanning] is a huge manual process in the middle of a digital world that is very error prone, and we’ve seen a lot of statistics on that,” he says.

“Secondly, it eliminates the concept of putting the client at the centre. We do modelling and so forth real-time in front of the clients, so they can see immediately what their alternatives look like. Taking that away and giving it to paraplanners to do that is like, no, that’s offending against our basic principle of the client at the centre.

“And of course, there was the economic rationale as well. If we’d had to put on 60 or 70 paraplanners, we’d really have knocked our business quite significantly.

“We have 160 planners, and it’s one [paraplanner] to two [advisers] – it’s a huge expense.”

Looking beyond a traditional base

Monaghan says the reengineered systems and processes enable SSFS to start looking beyond its traditional client base.

“That’s part of what we were thinking about when we created this,” he says.

“If you think back to our heritage, we were set up originally to provide advice to public-sector employees coming out of the defined benefit schemes. When I was appointed here four years ago the brief was to modernise the business, because we were a bit old-fashioned, and identify new sources of growth, because there’s not many of those people left in those schemes and in fact there’s a declining amount of members coming out of those schemes already.

“So our owner is very keen for us to identify new areas of growth, and a key element of getting ourselves ready for that has been to create a state-of-the-art ability to deliver advice to a broad range of people.”

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