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. One study by Pew Research found that more than eight in 10 (81%) Americans have used video calling, mostly as a result of the pandemic.1
The stars aligned, making virtual meetings a new normal. While some financial professionals saw it as a challenge, others saw an enormous opportunity. Suddenly, the limits of geography disappeared.
Or did they?
How much value do prospects and clients really place on proximity?
It’s important for financial professionals to understand how their geographic location impacts their business strategies.
What clients look for in a financial professional—and what they don’t
Aside from personal referrals, one of the first places prospective clients likely look for a financial professional 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 across a desk from their financial professional, 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.
Virtual meetings can benefit both financial professionals and clients
As families shifted to online work and school, a lot changed, including the ways people see and value their time. That 20-minute drive to a financial professional’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. Someone may be able to schedule virtual meetings over lunch or at other times during the day, making it easier to get one-on-one time with their financial professional.
That can free up evenings for better work-life balance on the financial professional’s side, too. In fact, virtual meetings may help break down barriers for some prospects. Moving forward, people will likely embrace digital interaction and services even more, expanding geographic boundaries for financial professionals and clients alike.
How to make the most of the opportunity
While digital transformation presents challenges, it also brings a unique business growth opportunity. Financial professionals can 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.
1. Maintain a robust & active online presence
A website was a must long before the pandemic. Now, because many 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 financial professionals used to hold in person can now be webinars that are recorded and uploaded as website content to help generate new leads.
A financial professional's online presence should make it quick and easy for prospects to verify credentials and validate performance history—and to recognize the financial professional'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 virtual meetings
A financial professional'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 sitting at their 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. Online meetings may actually make it easier to walk through charts and graphs with clients, 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. Financial professionals 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 a financial professional's practice—and live a thousand miles away. While that distance was once a major obstacle, there now may be no difference between a virtual meeting with a client from across town or across the country.
A personal approach will always be key
Embracing technology doesn’t mean losing focus on an individual client’s 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 and setting expectations.
It’s also important to consider that some of your clients may be among the 40% of those who feel burnout from excessive screen time.1 In fact, more than two-thirds (68%) say that while digital interactions are useful, they’re not a replacement for in-person contact.1
That said, don’t let false assumptions get in the way of connecting by presuming a correlation between client age and comfort level with technology. Not all Millennial clients 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. 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 financial professionals 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. TruStage™ can help by providing useful tools that can increase your proficiency for getting referrals, developing social strategies, leveraging behavioral finance advice (BFA™) and hosting presentations. Access these helpful Acceleration resources today.
Financial professionals who get appointed with TruStage™ gain 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.