Together, Apart: How to Forge Client Relationships in the Zoom-Era

The SigFig Team

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way we relate to one another. It has forced us to go online in unprecedented and often challenging ways. But it is now — when so much is uncertain — that we crave the comfort and advice of other humans. Face-to-face meetings may be scarce, but it is important to keep connecting. Your clients want to know you are looking out for them in a turbulent time.

The pandemic has led to layoffs, slowdowns and shutdowns. More people are seeking financial advice to help navigate it all. According to a Nationwide Financial survey, 80% of respondents feel they can’t manage their finances and investments on their own right now. Nearly half have realized they need professional advice, while nearly one-quarter have reached out to a financial advisor for the first time.

Those trends have continued as the pandemic deepened. A Vanguard survey found that the COVID-19 outbreak had a negative impact on 60% of respondents’ personal finances. As a result, they are managing their finances more closely. Almost half of millennial and Generation Z respondents said their interest in professional financial advice has increased since the pandemic.

What does the personal touch look like now?

Even before the pandemic, investors were increasingly using digital investment advisory services—an evolution the younger generations have embraced. According to the Vanguard survey, millennials are twice as likely as young boomers to consider using a robo-advisor. Half believe it is an ideal way to invest in a volatile market.

However, while robo-advisors are gaining in popularity, technology cannot replace the human touch. Many investors prefer to have a combination of human and digital investment advice, particularly during stressful times.

Financial advisors also benefit from face-to-face interactions. In December 2019, Redtail Technology’s AdvisorComms 2019 survey found that in-person meetings generated the most client engagement (76%) with video calls only generating 13%.

Now video calls have become the norm, but does this new dynamic help generate client engagement? How do you foster trust when you cannot meet in person?

Think beyond the Zoom

Proactively engaging clients at the right time with a relevant message breaks through the noise when many people are being saturated with screen time while working from home.

Setting up account-based triggers will help identify opportunities to deliver a more personalized client experience at scale. Account-based triggers can notify you when your client changes their address, updates their direct deposit information, or if they haven’t engaged in a while. These triggers can be applied to a segment of clients to narrow your target audience.

Texting is another way to connect with your clients, particularly if you want to alert them to an immediate opportunity. While the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) has a set of guidelines on texting, you can have one-on-one text conversations with a client and share factual information about account balances and performance.

According to the Redtail survey, 87% of respondents believed their clients would like texts, but almost one-third of their firms had a no-texting policy. Now might be the time to revisit your internal texting policies and protocols.

Meeting a client without a defined agenda or a mandate from compliance is a powerful approach to deepening client relationships. These interactions create an opportunity to have a holistic discussion about clients’ goals and changes and to connect on a personal level. Proactive outreach also assures clients that you are looking out for their best interests and fosters a level of trust that can prove to be invaluable.

Promote the hybrid approach

For younger investors already using online resources, the challenge is demonstrating the benefits of consulting with a financial advisor. Tailor your messaging to highlight how advisors get to know their clients personally and adjust advice to fit a client’s risk tolerance, priorities and goals, which might not be easily captured through a form. Underscore how an attentive human advisor can anticipate personal and market developments, and help adjust their client’s portfolio or offer advice in response to major life events.

For your more mature clients, you may need to highlight the safety of taking these discussions online, ensuring that the necessary privacy and security protocols are in place for both robo-advisory tools and online meetings.

Have customer-friendly and advisor-friendly online tools

You need to be creative with interactive financial planning tools and portfolio performance reporting tools, but not so out-of-the-box that you make them complicated to use. All clients appreciate well-designed and simple to navigate online offerings.

With over 40% of investors (73% of younger investors) researching advisors on Google1, now may be the time to invest in an upgrade of your website or app. A user experience expert can help your team understand your client bases’ needs and desires and how to translate those on screen.

A well-designed array of online tools will also help you focus on what is most important right now—building your personal relationships with existing and prospective clients. For instance, SigFig’s CoPilot gives financial advisors access to a comprehensive suite of wealth management technology. CoPilot automates compliance processes such as annual reviews and changes to client risk profile and suitability. By automating many of these administrative tasks, CoPilot helps you focus on the personalized planning and advice that customers want, particularly right now. And CoPilot was designed with widely distributed teams in mind, which is ideal when most of us are working from home.

It may seem counterintuitive, but technology will help you forge and deepen your personal relationships with clients. And it is now — during a pandemic that forces us to be apart — that your clients need you to reach out and be a calming, guiding force through the turbulence.

1 BNY Mellon Pershing, Advisor Value Propositions: How Advisors Showcase Their Value to Investors—and What Investors Secretly Think, 10/18/2018

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