We can safely say that many firms across a myriad industries are reviewing the way they work, with frequent working from home likely to be an option for many employees.
Secure technology systems and a ‘paperless office’ approach have opened the door for financial services companies to be comfortable for staff to work away from the office. Schroders has recently told its 5000 employees they no longer need to return to the office, and it looks likely that many firms will be requiring smaller office premises in the future as personal interaction is replaced by virtual online team meetings.
Working from home
Working from home has long been an option for many financial advisers but the way they interact with their clients is experiencing a massive shift. Travelling to meet clients in their own homes, or somewhere convenient for clients, has been the cornerstone of the advice process for the majority…until now. The impact of Covid-19 has meant interaction with clients has had to change – and it’s a change that looks likely to endure.
The news that Fairstone is launching a ‘digital remote advice service’ as a ‘zero touch’ solution is more of an inevitability than news. They want to keep personal interaction with clients as part of the process but, as everyone gets more comfortable with virtual meetings, it’s likely that meeting face-to-face may well become a rare event rather than the norm. For Jane Hodges at Money Honey Financial Planning, this is already the norm – she has been one of the early adopters of technology that allows her to interact with her clients without ever having the need to meet face-to-face.
It’s unfortunate that interacting with clients digitally is being described as remote services. The term ‘remote’ carries some negative connotations: the dictionary defines it as meaning ‘distant’, ‘having very little connection with or relationship to’ – neither are ideal in terms of building a trusting relationship aimed at helping clients manage their finances to meet very personal life goals.
Building meaningful relationships is important in all walks of life but never more so when taking on the responsibility to help guide and manage the finances of people.
Covid-19 created a necessity to avoid personal contact with clients and allowed the benefits offered by technology in terms of time-saving and efficiency to come to the fore. The lockdown and need for social distancing also led to many clients becoming happy to interact with advisers remotely. A recent poll by Intelliflo showed that almost nine out of 10 clients were satisfied or very satisfied by being serviced remotely and have continued to make better use of technology to stay on top of their finances at home.
Risk to soft skills
The risks of being ‘remote’ are less to do with technology per se and more to do with how advisers use it. A big risk is that facts and stats are shared digitally to clients while the softer skills of sitting and chatting are lost.
Not travelling to clients’ homes for annual reviews is a major time-saving benefit but advisers need to put just as much time effort into holding meaningful reviews with clients as before.
Video conferencing enables advisers to be face-to-face with clients, to ask about family situations; to look clients in the eye to answer questions about decisions taken and results achieved; to explore their clients’ hopes and dreams for the future.
These conversations are where advisers can really add value. Luckily, due to Covid-19, many previously technically-challenged clients are now fully engaged with video conferencing, so there is a golden opportunity for advisers to seize the moment and connect with clients face-to-face via the computer, not the car.