Moving to the cloud for Financial Advisors
What is the cloud?
Think of the cloud as a set of IT resources that you can access and use which do not reside on your premises or within your IT infrastructure. You and even perhaps your cloud provider may not even know specifically where the data resides, unless you have a specific agreement when you set up a Cloud based service. You may retain control of who has access or direct your Cloud provider to manage your authorized access. For those of you who remember the Data Centre, the cloud is analogous to a Data Centre. You are probably a user of cloud based services already such as Google mail, Google Apps, Microsoft Office 365 as examples. There are many advantages of using cloud based service but the one that has most resonance is you pay for what you need and use on a rental model, rather than incur high capital or setup and maintenance costs for a proprietary IT environment.
There are three main ways of using cloud services and many reputable suppliers for each:
Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS)
In this scenario you use the hardware (server, storage, networks) and operating systems from your provider. You are responsible for and have complete control over all aspects of the software and data you develop and/or install and use in the environment.
Platform as a Service (PaaS)
This scenario is similar to IaaS above but in addition you also rent your software development environment and manage and control that environment.
Software as a Service (SaaS)
In this scenario you have everything provided to you by your cloud provider to host and operate your business application(s). All you do is configure the application for your business and control the data.
How can the cloud benefit my business as a Financial Advisor?
There are both business and operational benefits to using cloud services:-
- You only pay for what you use
- You avoid big up-front costs by paying on a monthly basis
- You can improve you staff productivity by having access to applications and data anywhere, anytime once you have internet access.
- You improve customer service by having real-time access at point of sale and service
- You can significantly reduce paperwork and related overheads
Operational & Technical benefits
- Your provider is an expert IT supplier and manages all aspects for you, you do not have to retain IT expertise, assets and associated costs.
- Cloud providers have very high reliability and resilience so service interruptions are unlikely.
- Your data and applications are backed up frequently and automatically, and have integrated disaster recovery infrastructures.
- You can scale up or down your IT as required to meet business demands
- Your provider maintains the latest technologies and software releases ensuring you are always up to date.
What about compliance?
There are two areas that must be considered firstly the standard regulatory environment applicable to you as a financial advisor and secondly the data protection environment. Let us consider both
Financial Regulatory environment for advisors
The guidelines that apply to your business today still apply, however depending on your starting point, will determine the key considerations. If you have a reasonably progressive, compliant and mature IT environment then moving to the cloud just requires confirming with your provider that the current controls and systems are achieved when you move to the new hosted environment. If you retain the same functionality then it’s really a question of ensuring the provider has a robust and compliant set of IT security (see paper on data trust for levels of security). If however you are starting from a more manual paper based process and are using the opportunity of a cloud based service to move your business to a more automated digital process then you get the added benefits of digital automation and also using cloud services. You will however need to confirm that all aspects of the new automated process will be compliant with your regulatory environment, but as you are certainly not the first to do this you can be sure that there will be plenty of case studies, advice and guidance.
The requirements in this area will be determined by your national data protection legislation, in the European Union there is much consistency between each member state. Personal Data is what is of concern. Most legislation concerns itself with the roles of Data Controller and Data Processor:
Data controller is a person who (either alone or with others) controls the contents and use of personal data.
Data processor is a person who processes personal data on behalf of a data controller but does not include an employee of a data controller who processes such data in the course of his employment.
Referring to the current guidelines you operate under is essential as these do not change when you move to the cloud. Again your service provider advises you on the levels of compliance and provides contractual confirmations. (See paper Digital Data: Can you Trust it? For more details)
Some of the main considerations are as follows:-
- Regulation and control of access to data (Ensuring only those that are authorised to access and process can do so, and un-authorised access is prevented)
- Securing Data Provenance (Ensuring that the origin, history and integrity of the data is secured and there is audit trails and evidence of any tampering whether accidental or malicious)
- Verification of data integrity (The ability to verify data authenticity and integrity)
How can I get started in the cloud?
Perhaps you are already using in internet enabled hosted service, there are quite a few available such as quotation engines that manage pricing for you from a single service provider. However if you want to put a toe in the water while maintaining your current software you can consider Brokerprove from Digiprove , this system will enable you take more of your business digital and secure initial benefits of cloud storage and access. If you already have good automation then Autoprotect from Digiprove is a simple utility that runs as a background task that can secure the integrity and authenticity of your files (Digital content) before storage and verify its provenance on retrieval.