I have been asked the same question a number of times in the last few days from a variety of sources including a financial journalist or two. The question was “What is your biggest business challenge?”. I imagine that I was expected to respond by saying something about the new FCA rules, rising compliance/PI/IT/regulatory costs, a tough economy. Frankly these are insignificant next to the plethora of wasted time and money that most advisers and their staff experience on a daily basis.

It is 2013, technology rules, yet our post bag (invariably delivered only just before lunchtime) is full of rubbish. By way of a few examples from today: a 12-page valuation of a pension that no longer exists, showing a value of £nil. A 4 page letter confirming that funds have finally passed from a pension to an annuity (a one-line email would suffice). A (I cannot be bothered to count them – so guessing 15 pages) note that an income protection policy is due to increase by a couple of quid in June. A wad of paper about a client that has not engaged with us for over a decade about his pension that matured last week (thanks!). We are inundated with “stuff”. Most of which is rubbish. Yet we have to note, scan, rename, file and shred it. Not my job, but largely a waste of time, when the same information could have been emailed or put onto a website for “secure download”.

Despite all the advances of technology, it seems that financial services is awash with paper. Each company is really doing little more than covering its back from perceived threat of compliance breach. So it is at least heartening when a good company actually asks for insight into what might actually be helpful and have the opportunity to discuss what technology will really benefit both advisers and clients, as was the case today at Morningstar. Sadly, this is rarely something that the product providers ever dare to ask, yet I am encouraged to vote for them in another pointless round of awards for service. I don’t really think that many of them have the slightest clue about proper service.

Unfortunately, there are lots of investors out there that also have not had a good service. Clients do leave us (yes its true) but I cannot think of an instance where this was to do with our service, it is normally simply a geographical issue, or perhaps a cost or simply “not getting” what we are all about  – the “wrong fit”. So in theory when a client leaves, his or her policy/investment/whatever ought to be taken over by the new local adviser. Often this is not done properly (or at all). Hence ten years later we are still getting copies of “stuff” (which we don’t want). Of course, this could mean that there is not a new adviser, the ex-client hasn’t taken any advice or simply left things “ticking over”. Sadly this is a very costly and wasteful mistake. I find this rather depressing, as we could have made the situation much better for them. In an effort to be helpful and not see the client waste more money, by simply using the annuity provided by the pension company, I write (hopefully to the right address) explaining various options and the importance of getting advice. Call me or find someone local (I will help) – I don’t mind, but don’t ignore it any longer. The sums of the amounts involved aren’t insignificant, OK advice is not free (it never was), but getting the right advice is, well… almost priceless?

Dominic Thomas: Solomons IFA