The financial planning division of ING has this week launched a funds distribution platform that gives retail investors access to more products and better information on portfolio performance. The application uses data available through the SWIFTNet Funds messaging system and is a first of its kind in Asia.

The technology is made possible because it utilizes a Microsoft adaptor called Biztalk, explains Kathryn Dioth, head of operations for ING Financial Planning in Hong Kong.

"This brings fund distributors into the world of electronic messaging," says Dioth. "Financial planning organizations haven't traditionally had a lot of money to invest in technology and nor have they had the IT expertise. Now with this Microsoft middleware adapter, our application can generate XML messages that link into the SWIFTNet Funds standard. The technology is a lot more affordable."

ING's financial advisers will use the platform to provide clients with a greater choice of products, better portfolio building tools and analytics, simple commission processing and management, daily valuations, and handsomely presented performance information.

"Financial advisors will be able to pull all of the data together and present it in elegant easy-to-interpret statements. A client will now have a really clear picture of their holdings, their asset allocations and fund performance through daily valuations," says Dioth.

The next phase of the platform will include a transaction element, giving advisors the ability to purchase and redeem funds using the system. "This will improve straight through processing, reduce errors and cut the time it takes to process a transaction. Customers will get a unit price on the fund they are buying within 12 hours of the purchase."

Dioth says the platform will be made available to ING's Hong Kong clients first, with plans to roll it out in other markets soon. She says of the 40 fund management houses currently on ING's recommended list in Hong Kong, ING expects 20 will be delivering information across the SWIFT network within the next 12 months.

She says ING is now putting pressure on its preferred fund managers to deliver data via SWIFT. "Anyone who is already on the SWIFT network will have a headstart over other providers because of the way the system allows us to offer quality after-sales service," she says.

ING has been involved with the SWIFTNet Funds pilot program for the last few months, says Roger Price of SWIFT in Hong Kong. "There are 70 distributors and fund managers around the world that are connected to the system. And about 20 of these are in Asia."

Price says the participation of middleware providers like Microsoft has been critical to the uptake of the funds messaging system. "The adapter is very simple to use and very cost effective for financial planners to deploy. Being able to integrate SWIFT into existing back office platforms is key to the success of this technology."

Price says the adapter also has application in linking corporate treasury and cash reporting customers into the SWIFT network.