On the 7th April we launched the Retirement Adviser Directory. This marked the culmination of over six months of work. The project aimed to provide people reaching retirement age with a directory they can use to search a list of regulated financial advisers who can help them plan for retirement.
The project was split into two stages: building the adviser acquisition site, to enable a firm to register to be on the directory; and building the consumer-facing site, to enable users to search the registered firms.
In this piece I want to outline a little bit more about both stages of the project, the challenges we faced and some lessons we learned post-launch.
Adding firms to the directory
The first stage was to build a signup process for advisers registered with the Financial Conduct Authority. An adviser would first need to register to be part of the Directory. They would do this by visiting radsignup.moneyadviceservice.org.uk and after completing a few pre-qualification questions (intended to attract only firms with a focus on retirement planning) they would use their firm’s FCA registration number to register to be included in the directory.
We would then match the FCA registration number to a dataset of regulated firms provided by the FCA. After matching the firm to the dataset we would email the firm to invite them to return to the website and provide us with some more information about their firm and its advisers.
Initially we planned to take an automated feed from the FCA which when updated would push new firm’s to us for inclusion in our dataset, however the FCA project to build that feed did not have the same strict deadline that the Directory had so we had to proceed with an analogue dataset that we would manually update. Once the FCA have built their automated feed we look forward to including it in future enhancements to the Directory.
When the adviser returned to the website he/she would give us further contact information (general company email address, website address, etc.), the contact details of a ‘principal’, or an adviser who would act as a point of contact, and would then be given the opportunity to attach advisers to that firm’s record.
It was important that we completed the adviser acquisition site as quickly as possible. That way we could give the advisers as much time as possible to sign up before we launched the Directory to the public. We wanted to give our users the best chance of finding a firm that matched their needs and so launching the adviser acquisition website quickly was a priority. This meant that we kept the design very simple, falling back on the default Money Advice Service branding and relying on simple interactions, rather than a complex interface.
We launched the adviser acquisition site in early February, meeting our deadline, and we were very pleased to see a large numbers of firms signing up within the first few weeks.
Building a frontend for consumers
Once we launched the adviser acquisition site the team moved on to building a consumer-facing frontend. This would allow users to filter the data we collected from the advisers. It would need to both educate the user on the new changes to pensions and on what benefit a financial adviser could offer. It would also act as a gateway for users to search for an adviser nearby and how best to contact that firm/adviser. The landing page would also link to the government’s Pension wise site, ‘a free and impartial government service that helps you understand your new pension options’.
We decided that our users should be able to search either based on their postcode (and advisers who could provide a service in their area) or by firms who offered online/over-the-telephone advice. Once a user made this initial choice we included optional filters to narrow down what the user needed help with, including: pension pot/savings, options when paying for care, equity release, inheritance tax and planning, and lastly, advice on wills and probate.
On the backend we used a service called Elastic search to search through our dataset and present the user with results. For example, when a user searches for an adviser based on their own home address we search our database for advisers who are either within a radius of their postcode, or who have said that they are willing to travel to the location of the user. The results are then ordered by firms who have an adviser close to the user’s postcode. When a further optional filter is chosen it would then order the results by which firms offer that type of advice first, and then second by proximity to the user.
We launched the Directory as a closed beta to advisers on 24th March to give them a few days to review the data they had previously entered and send us any specific change requests. This also acted as a reminder to those firms who had been invited but had yet to sign up. Then a few days later we opened the Directory to the public as a live beta.
Issues and next steps
We had an immovable deadline for the project and the team worked many late nights and weekends to meet it. Many of us expected that a few bugs would slip in under the radar, however we were pleasantly surprised that as of a month after launch we have discovered no major technical issues.
Due to this strict deadline our product team were forced to reduce the scope of the features we could implement in the beta. We had hoped that the results page would contain a concise list of results that when interacted with would take you to an individual firm’s ‘profile page’ whereby you could learn more about the firm’s advisers and contact them directly. We also had planned a feature that would allow a user to create a shortlist of firms and email them all at the end of the search process.
Removing these features gave us a better chance of hitting the April deadline, however in doing so we ended up having to make some sacrifices to the user experience of the results page. For example, the content that was going to make up part of the profile page was condensed, pared down, and included directly in the results page. This meant that each result ‘card’ would be larger than we originally planned on a desktop computer screen, and on mobile it would involve quite a lot of scrolling to move through the page.
This sacrifice also had the byproduct of distracting the user’s attention from where the firm’s adviser was in relation to the user. After launch we undertook several rounds of user testing and the same issue came up in every session. While the result specifically mentions how far a firm’s adviser is from the user’s postcode, many users where focusing on the supplementary information about the firm, and the firm’s general office address, rather than on the fact that the firm had a specific adviser who was located near them.
These are all issues that we hope to solve through further rounds of user testing and by working on the user experience of the results page and the planned profile page. Including a profile page will allow us to shift much of the distracting supplementary information from the result card to the profile page.
For our team this project can be characterised as working ten hour days, seven days a week for most of February and March in order to hit an immovable deadline imposed on us by government.
When working in a typically agile environment if a deadline is strict or is brought forward the features, or ‘scope’, of the project is reduced to unburden the team. However, with specific requirements for launch and an immoveable deadline we had to forgo much of the methodologies outlined in the Agile manifesto and move from working in tight sprints to more of a kanban approach.
On a positive note it was a fantastic challenge for our team and we launched a product under constraints that most of us have not worked under before. Working overtime can be quite stressful, however using Slack we were able to work the weekends with a stoic humour that helped bond the team together.
With the recent change to pensions coming into force from 6 April 2015, and along with the government’s Pension wise site, the Money Advice Service is excited to be able to offer our users a directory of regulated advisers. We believe this Directory will be able to help people approaching retirement age navigate the options available to them as they approach this complex stage in their lives.
We are rather proud of the product we have created. Not just because we have helped create a product for the Money Advice Service which will help people get in touch with advisers they can trust, but because we created a product and launched it on time, with minimal technical issues within the first month of launch.
(This article can also be found on my blog alexwllms.com.)