Financial planning was always a face-to-face gig. That was the whole point: clients received personal attention and tailored advice from their trusted adviser. Then it all went off in Wuhan and life as we knew it ended, pretty much overnight.
Financial advisers, like people in so many other lines of work, suddenly found themselves running their businesses from their kitchen tables, communicating with their clients via Zoom and Teams while simultaneously trying to teach their kids algebra.
Two years later, the kids are back in school (collective sigh of relief) and things, for now at least, are starting to return to a relative normal.
But digital video-conferencing platforms like Teams and Zoom have embedded themselves in our DNA, with many advisers saying the move from in-person to online has been permanent.
Like a man well-versed in numbers, as a financial planner should be, Graeme Inglis, Director and Chartered Financial Planner at Poise Financial Planning in Linlithgow, Scotland, puts a percentage figure on how his business has changed after the pandemic: “Around 25% of our firm's client interaction is now done face to face. This compares to almost 100% pre-pandemic. There has been a huge shift towards using the likes of Zoom and Teams as part of the advice process and for client reviews.”
Petronella West, Chief Executive Officer at London-based Investment Quorum, agrees, though she says “meeting for the first time in the real world is always best to build trust”. Petronella also stresses how meeting digitally improves advice firms’ operational efficiency: “We can now reach clients anywhere, on any timezone.”
Graeme echoes that sentiment and highlights the way video-conferencing also opens up a whole new market of prospective clients: “Technology means firms are no longer limited to concentrating on a region or locality.”
Talking of technology, one piece of tech that is rapidly going the way of the dodo, according to Adrian Kidd, Chartered Wealth Manager at Aylesbury-based EQ Financial Planning, is the phone: “What has significantly changed for us is the fact that people are much more comfortable with video calls compared to phone calls. As we work in a relationship business, it feels that you connect better on video. If I’m talking to a new client, for me it would always be remote video in the first instance.”
Joshua Gerstler, Chartered Financial Planner and owner at Borehamwood-based The Orchard Practice, is of much the same view, having ditched the phone altogether when contacting new clients: “I don’t offer telephone call meetings for new clients. If they aren’t local and can’t meet face to face then a video call is the next best thing. I wouldn’t trust someone with my life savings if they aren’t prepared to show me what they look like and how they behave, so why should my clients?”
The clear consensus is that client meetings held online are now at the heart of the modern adviser’s service offering. But face-to-face meetings, while significantly less common than they were pre-pandemic, are not destined for the scrapheap of history.
“There will always be some clients who require or prefer an in-person meeting,” says Rob Peters of Altrincham-based Simple Fast Mortgage. “However, the default form of communication in society is changing and video calls are the foundation of modern financial advice whether you like it or not.”