Martin French explains how technology can act as a valuable tool in businesses' quest to meet compliance obligations

Type the word 'technology' into the thesaurus on your PC and it may return, as it did for me: 'skill', 'knowledge', 'expertise', 'know-how', 'equipment', 'machinery' and 'tools'. An interesting choice of words that cover both the user and the utility or equipment, but how do we combine it all to integrate technology into compliance?

We need to understand what technology means if we are to turn our 'working day' into more time with the client and less with paperwork, monitoring and evidence creation.

So let's look at what the thesaurus has to offer - equipment, machinery and tools. Far too often we are offered the latest technology, the fastest processor, the ability to multi-task more functions and to send items faster, quicker and wireless: what did we do without technology?

For technology to work it must be invisible and simple.

So long as we can change the channel, do we care how our remote works? Do we need to understand quad-band, Bluetooth or mega pixels if all we require is to access our phonebook and dial our contact without thinking about what we are doing?

The latest, fastest, most expensive technology may actually slow us down and create more work if we don't know how to use it.

It is crucial that someone in your company has the skills, knowledge, expertise and know-how to make the money you've spent on technology work for you and - just as important - ensure that you have the need for it in the first place.

For example, you wouldn't buy a two-seater sports car if you couldn't actually drive (skills) or if you wanted it to take your 2.4 children to school (need); well, not without making three trips - so expensive, cutting-edge technology only works if you need it and can use it efficiently.

Making and keeping your company compliant is a balancing act with earning a living for most brokers and advisers. I have seen many a business struggling to get by because it over-complicate its compliance or places it above everything else it does.

If implemented properly, compliance can become a seamless part of your sales process and office procedures. This is where technology is key and the right technology should aid the first client contact and beyond to the closure of the file. Let's see how.

Graphics software can be used to create promotions that can be mailed to a potential client list. Mail merge can be used to produce the letters being sent with the promotions. From a compliance angle, technology can create and record the list of potential clients against each promotion you issue; very useful if you are targeting a specific audience and you need to evidence this.

End-to-end system
Software can be used to produce all of the required documentation that accompanies a sale, whether retail or commercial, advice or information only.

This is often part of an 'end-to-end' system that can also hold your client data and store your research, forms and letters.

Some systems will also 'compliance-check' your fact-find documents and your closing/ suitability letters for mandatory wording. Running your fact-finding software on a tablet-style laptop will go a long way to breaking down the barrier between you and your client.

Most importantly, these systems provide diary management. This function will remind you of renewal dates, second and ongoing appointments, review dates, complaints and Retail Mediation Activity Return (RMAR) return dates.

Diary management is probably one of your most important tools if used properly; it acts as your secretary and your organiser in that it works as your memory when you're too busy to remember yourself.

All of your customer data can be stored on disc, hard drive or external backup for a fraction of the price of buying and storing paper files and cabinets; let alone the reduced costs resulting from the space saving. The portability of this backup makes it ideal within your business continuity plans.

However, remember that computers can fail, discs become unreadable and one lightening-filled sky can fry your computer and its files in a split second.

Don't forget to back up your backup and store separately. You can outsource your backup to companies which provide this service; many also now offer temporary office space fitted out with technology to allow you to continue while your premises are repaired.

Record progress
Going a step further, how about using technology to record the CPD that you build throughout your career? The CII has recently introduced an online facility that allows you to assess your individual skill gaps and determine appropriate learning.

You can even record your progress on the system. Add to this the Assess training system, which helps you to gain new knowledge while, if required, supervising your staff's training with material and user-specific testing.

There are many packages available that will allow you to run your business accounts, forecast for profit or loss and monitor your asset levels; useful for maintaining compliance with the Client Assets requirements and preparing data for your RMAR.

Technology is there to help you if you want to let it. Purchase what you need; be open to new technology as it is the future.

Don't be put off by equipment and software that you don't yet understand but spend the time and the money to learn how to use it.

In conclusion, the right technology bought for the right money, utilised in the right way, will free up your time, save you money, produce management information and help you to maintain your compliant standard. And there's always Solitaire too! IT

' Martin French is compliance and training manager at Hugh James Financial Services