Your Thriving Practice

Maintaining relationships from a distance

How to use the video skills you acquired during the pandemic to improve client service in the future

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For financial professionals, COVID-19 drove a rapid and sometimes uncomfortable shift from in-person meetings to video calls using Zoom, Teams, WebEx, and other similar platforms. But today, agents are looking toward a return to normal, a time when they can once again look clients in the eye and shake their hands.

For many financial professionals, “normal” is likely to include a substantial number of virtual interactions. The pandemic showed that the use of remote meetings can hold significant benefits for producers and their clients, and many now see remote meetings as an important part of their toolkit. According to a survey from the SmartAsset financial information site, only 2% of agents preferred video calls prior to the pandemic—but today, 33% expect to prefer them going forward.

For many agents, then, remote meetings are here to stay. With that in mind, there are several steps you can take to use these virtual tools more effectively—and to continue to provide a high-touch experience even while working remotely with clients.

“Agents who have remained highly visible online during Covid say that they are winning those relationships.”

The Value of Virtual

Video calls are appealing for several reasons. They are convenient and can be held more easily at odd, non-business hours. They don’t require travel for either the client or the financial professional. And for a significant segment of clients, they have become a favored form of contact.

Moving ahead, video will be especially important in reaching younger clients for whom virtual interactions are second nature—clients who will be the recipients of $30 trillion generational transfer of wealth from their baby boomer parents.

But don’t count seniors out, says Patricia Hausherr, vice president of Global Atlantic Consulting: “Many of us have these preconceived ideas that older clients are not going to be able to handle the technology,” she says, “but we’re finding out that’s not necessarily the case. We are hearing about elderly clients who have found it to be a more effective and efficient way to work with their financial advisor.”

Remote contact also makes it easier to stay in touch as people move around—including those older clients who are heading into that critical pre-retirement period. “We know that most investors will have three to five financial professionals as they head into retirement, and then they typically consolidate to one,” says Hausherr. As those retiring clients move to better climates or closer to children, video calls can help maintain connections. “Agents who have remained highly visible online during Covid say that they are winning those relationships, and the consolidation is coming to them,” she says.

Top tips for working with clients post pandemic

 

Improving Your Game

Like any tool, virtual interactions are more effective when used correctly. Toward that end, financial professionals can consider several key practices:

  • Get the basics right. Good lighting, the right camera angles, and non-distracting backgrounds are still important. You may also want to look at your security practices and make sure you and your clients are maintaining privacy—which can mean ensuring that family members, friends, or even Alexa or Google Assistant are not listening in. With all that in mind, some firms have designated individuals to oversee their virtual platforms, run meetings, and offer assistance. Clients may need help, as well. “Financial planners are likely to be well versed at this point, given that they have five or more virtual meetings a day. But clients might not be, and so just having some general knowledge of troubleshooting is good,” says Meghaan R. Lurtz, PhD, senior research associate at Kitces.com, which provides advisors with consulting and education.
  • Adjust communication patterns. Instead of quarterly in-person meetings, some producers have found it useful to use video calls to make shorter but more frequent contacts. In addition, producers can use multichannel communications— email newsletters, podcasts, videos, social media posts, phone calls and even mailings—to reach clients through multiple touchpoints and reinforce video calls. Online social events can also be effective. While the use of Zoom and other virtual platforms is beginning to decline as in-person visits return, the opposite is true for online client gatherings, says Hausherr. “Client virtual events are actually well attended,” she says, and her office has helped financial professionals with successful virtual events ranging from wine tastings to yoga-for-beginners classes.
  • Take control of the discussion. Having an agenda is key in virtual environments because it is easy for discussions to become disjointed, especially when there are numerous participants on a call, says Lurtz. “This might not be as difficult if it is just one client and one agent but start adding people—meeting with a couple or a family, multiple advisors, or a CPA and a financial planner—and things can get a little hectic. As such, using the agenda can help keep people on task and paying attention.” Practice too, can be important for presentations and certain client conversations. For example, working with a client who is upset about, say, market volatility can be especially complicated in a virtual, rather than physical, situation. “Financial planners might want to talk through how their office wants to handle those heated or emotional discussions before they happen so that there is a protocol to fall back on,” Lurtz says.
  • Cast a wide net. Remote interactions open the door to reaching clients outside the traditional local area, and many consumers are now open to electronic marketing efforts. This can significantly expand the pool of potential clients. Agents can also look beyond geographic expansion to virtually target specific client types. “Financial planners can go all-in on niche practices because they are no longer limited by location and can attract people from all over who fit that niche,” says Lurtz.
  • Seize the opportunity. With its lockdowns and isolation, the pandemic has created pent-up demand for human contact, along with a sharper focus on financial preparation. “People are thinking about their plans for the future, making sure their wills are updated, looking at what their need for care might be in their later years,” says Hausherr. “So there is a real opportunity for producers to check in with clients—see how they’re doing, what they’re thinking about. Ask open-ended questions—and be a good listener. That will help you connect with and support them.”

 

In the end, many financial professionals will want to use a hybrid model that combines virtual and in-person meetings. But deciding which to use should be up to the client. That means agents should ask clients what they prefer and when they would prefer one or the other. They should explain what can be done online and what their safety policies are. And they should match their approach to client expectations. Even in an increasingly virtual world, the traditional focus on meeting individual needs will always be an essential part of the business.

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