The digital transformation of financial planning and investment services was well underway before the pandemic forced major changes in all Americans’ daily lives. Many were already using online interfaces and mobile apps to handle life’s daily tasks. Lockdowns and enforced closures only increased the use of technology, from grocery shopping to telehealth visits, and from fitness classes to quarterly check-ins with financial professionals.
In 2020, technology and health concerns converged to make the virtual meeting a new, safer normal—creating an enormous opportunity for financial advisors. Suddenly, the limits of geography disappeared.
Or did they?
How much value do prospects and clients really place on proximity? Once the pandemic risk passes, will client expectations return to quarterly in-person office meetings, or will virtual face-to-face meetings become the new normal?
As financial professionals prepare for the post-pandemic future, it’s important to understand the long-term effects on client expectations, and incorporate those changes into business strategies moving forward.
What Clients Look for in an Advisor—and What They Don’t
By now, the first place most prospective clients look for a financial advisor is the internet. There, they can find plenty of articles and advice on how to choose a financial professional who can meet their needs. Some common attributes clients look for are integrity, experience, expertise or qualifications, an interest in meeting client financial goals, and solid communication.
Notably missing from that list is nearby.
While there may always be clients who prefer to walk in and sit down across a desk from their financial advisor, the new normal makes it more important than ever to use technology and tools to deliver on client expectations, to show empathy and compassion, and to stay in touch even better than before the pandemic forced seemingly everything online.
Virtual Meetings Can Benefit Both Advisors and Clients
It’s not safe to assume that once masks and social distancing are behind us, all clients will want to meet physically again. Some people will take longer to adjust back to in-person interactions. As families shifted to online work and school, a lot changed, including the way people see and value their time. That 20-minute drive to a financial advisor’s office looks different than before, especially when compared with the convenience of logging on from the living room.
At the same time, some clients may have new workday flexibility, and—now that travel time is no longer a factor—can schedule virtual meetings over lunch or at other times during the day, making it easier to get one-on-one time with busy clients.
That can free up evenings for better work-life balance on the advisor’s side, too.
In fact, in-person meetings may have been creating a barrier all along to some prospects working with an advisor at all. And since 71% of Americans report that their financial planning is in need of help, and only 29% of Americans are currently working with an advisor, embracing technology to expand beyond geographical boundaries could present a historic growth opportunity for advisors.1
Experts in technology, communications and social change predict that, moving forward, people will increasingly embrace digital interaction and services. Those experts point to both safety concerns and convenience as drivers of the change.2
How to Make the Most of the Opportunity
While digital transformation presents challenges, it also brings a unique business growth opportunity for advisors who are willing to differentiate themselves by embracing technology as a toolkit for connecting with clients, demonstrating empathy, and helping them meet their financial and investment goals.
As geography becomes less of an influence on prospective clients’ choices, financial professionals need to embrace online technologies to build their relevance and differentiate themselves from the competition. Changes in circumstances may be opportunities for growth.
1. Maintain a Robust & Active Online Presence
A website was a must long before the pandemic. Now, because most prospects start their search online, it’s important to have a comprehensive online communication strategy that includes valuable content like blog posts, email updates, videos and a social media presence for networking and sharing information. Those free workshops and seminars that advisors used to hold in person can now be webinars that can even be recorded and uploaded as website content to help generate new leads.
An advisor’s online presence should make it quick and easy for prospects to verify credentials and validate performance history—and to recognize the advisor’s core values and expertise in helping clients reach their goals.
Customer relationship management (CRM) software can help manage, organize and even automate some client emails, social media posts, website updates, and other important interactions and lead generation activities.
2. Master Technology for Meaningful & Productive Virtual Meetings
An advisor’s level of comfort with technology may affect their clients’ perceptions of competence, so it’s vital to dig in, use training materials and practice with the tools until they become as comfortable as an office and desk. Whether on Zoom, Webex, Microsoft Teams, or another application for virtual meetings, it’s crucial to know the ins and outs and ensure reliable audio, video and screen sharing for every meeting, with every client.
Preparation for client meetings remains as important as ever, starting with a tidy office, a meeting agenda, and a quick tech check to make sure audio, video and screen sharing are working smoothly. It’s easy to walk through charts and graphs with clients as easily as in person, provided the materials are organized and ready to go. Immediate post-meeting follow-up can include PDF files of materials covered in the meeting—another reason all documents must be organized and easy to follow.
Other essential tech tools include calendar applications that allow clients to book meetings online and document sharing and e-signature applications. Advisors should meticulously review training materials and practice using every application that clients are expected to use. Tools should make it easier to connect, not harder.
3. Pursue Referrals with a New Outlook
In the past, word-of-mouth referrals were often hyperlocal. Now as communications have gone online, financial professionals who prefer to specialize can take advantage of online affinity groups and connections. Whether their focus is retirement planning for people in a certain field, helping those new to investing, working with small business owners or helping retired people make decisions about spending their savings, the internet makes it easy to reach out in new ways and connect to target audiences no matter where they live.
The same is true when it comes to referrals from current clients. They may have contacts who are a great match for an advisor’s practice—and live a thousand miles away. While that distance was once a major obstacle, there’s now no difference between a virtual meeting with a client from across town and one with a client across the country.
A Personal Approach Will Always Be Key
Embracing technology doesn’t mean losing focus on individual clients’ needs. Every client may have a different level of comfort with meeting technologies, email and web-based interface. It’s therefore essential to continue taking an individual approach to communicating, setting expectations and meeting client needs.
False assumptions that can get in the way of connecting can include presuming a correlation between client age and comfort level with technology. Not all millennial clients may want to meet online only, and not all baby boomers resist virtual meetings. A client who lives just down the street may still prefer meeting online rather than in person and, in fact, the ease of virtual meetings could lead many clients to prefer more frequent meetings than before, when face-to-face meant traveling to an office.
Enterprising advisors will take advantage of the many communication channels at their disposal to reach out, engage and deliver exactly what each individual client needs— responsively and efficiently, with compassion and integrity. Advisors who get appointed with CUNA Mutual Group get access to a unique toolkit of resources and support that can help them better serve all clients, no matter where they are on the map. Getting appointed is simple: It takes just three steps. Click the link below to get started today.
1Northwestern Mutual, Planning & Progress Study 2020.
2Pew Research, Experts Say the ‘New Normal’ in 2025 Will Be Far More Tech-Driven, Presenting More Big Challenges, February 18, 2021.