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5 minutes with… Billy Burnside, managing director, Criterion

27 October 2020

How do Criterion’s services affect paraplanners? Facilitating hundreds of millions of life, investment, and pension transactions every year, probably more than most realise. Originally established as a subsidiary of the FinTech Origo, Criterion recently became a fully independent body in September 2020. We spoke to Billy Burnside managing director, Criterion, about what the organisation does and its ambitions following independence.

PP: What is Criterion and what does it do that affects financial advice firms?

BB: Criterion’s purpose is to inspire businesses to be better connected and productive through nurturing greater collaboration, increasing process efficiencies and driving standardisation.

Criterion Standards are used by many advisers and paraplanners, although they may not know it. The standards support the software that advisers and paraplanners use, on hundreds of millions of life, investment, and pension transactions every year across quote and apply, valuations, transaction reporting and remuneration. Criterion Standards provide the ‘standardised messages’ between platform and provider systems and third-party software systems (adviser planning tools, portals and client management systems etc.).

Criterion’s people remain its greatest asset and significant experience exists throughout the team, built up over many years of working on the development and management of standards. The standards managed by Criterion have been developed over 25 years and underpin the exchange of data between organisations in the financial services industry. This makes it easier for product providers, platforms, administrators, portals, client management systems and advisers to work with each other.

The team is uniquely positioned to act as facilitators between different financial service organisations, as catalysts for collaboration, to help bring them together and create solutions to problems that no one in the market can solve themselves.

The outputs are standards and governance that cover a range of financial services, from pensions and investments, through savings, protection, and occupational pensions to software solutions.

They enable efficient messaging so systems can pass data between them quickly and accurately. For example, bulk valuations and transaction history information between platforms and adviser firms’ back-office systems.

PP: What are Standards and how do they help the industry?

BB: Criterion works with stakeholders in areas where a collective, multi-party approach is required to diagnose problems and then to identify, design and define solutions for each party to adopt. Those solution definitions are managed and evolved over time by Criterion through close, ongoing liaison with those stakeholders.

Key existing propositions in our standards development and management portfolio include Criterion Standards for APIs, Criterion Common Declarations for pension transfers, and STAR.

We also work with stakeholders in a sector or problem space to support collective activity to address key issues. Criterion helps stakeholders govern and execute their activities and can support activities like collective procurement. Criterion provides such services to annuity providers to support their collective provision of the Retirement Health Form.

Over 300 different organisations engage with Criterion and benefit from utilising the services it manages on behalf of the industry.  Research conducted with Criterion shareholder providers in 2020 indicates that Criterion Standards power more than 165 million contract enquiries (policy information & valuations) and over 660 million (protection & annuity) illustrations each year.  Contract enquiry and Illustrations represent a small sub-set of the breadth of 70+ Standards Criterion offers, although they are the most widely used and popular. This illustrates the enduring value and importance of Criterion Standards to the industry the business serves.

PP: Why has Criterion becoming an independent organisation?

BB: In response to industry demand, in 2017 the Origo Board decided that in order to position clearly the services provided by Origo and the provision of Standards to the industry, a separate company should be created.

As planned, we now have the final piece of the jigsaw in place, with Criterion as a fully independent body that can draw on a long history of delivering standards and governance.

As part of our independent status, we have developed a totally new website and rebranded all of the existing Standards as ‘Criterion Standards’.

PP: What is STAR, how will it help the industry, and where is it in terms of progress?

BB: STAR is a collaboration between Criterion and TeX to establish a cross-industry framework of good practice for improving consumer experience in moving their money between financial institutions. A growing community of over 70 pensions and investments firms (see www.joinstar.co.uk) have signed up, committed to shaping recognised, industry-wide standards to promote good practice in transfers. It is the only cross-industry solution bringing together platforms, ISA managers, pension companies, asset managers and transfer agents, galvanising the industry, to put in place service level agreements to ensure quick, efficient, and predictable transfers and re-registration. Phase 2 (STAR Participant Accreditation) will deliver ‘gold, silver & bronze’ accreditation awards and will be a key deliverable in 2021.

PP: Why should the industry get behind STAR?

BB: The FCA, The Pensions Regulator and the Department of Work and Pensions are wholly supportive of STAR and recognise that this is an opportunity for the industry to sort this issue, to avoid legislative intervention.

In terms of benefits of industry involvement, it is a chance to: influence good practice; demonstrate commitment to consumers and industry stakeholders; showcase good performance; assist in eliminating additional administration and associated costs; and reduce complaints, queries, referrals and additional work.

Consumers will benefit from better communication, improved transparency, and continuous improvement.

PP: What are your ambitions for Criterion?

BB: We are entrusted with the custody of the industry’s Standards and management of how these are governed. We will continue to serve over 300 UK financial services organisations, with in excess of £400bn in AUA, working collaboratively to develop common standards and governance to drive efficiencies, increase integration and improve adviser and customer experiences and outcomes.

Our ambition is to broaden the Standards user community in Criterion’s core established markets as we firmly believe more organisations can benefit from their adoption. Securing new lines of business is integral to our long-term sustainable future.

There are opportunities to take the lessons learned from our core market and apply them more broadly. We also expect development budgets within organisations to continue to come under pressure which could result in opportunities where organisations are seeking increased reach and efficiency through digital solutions.

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