As someone who has made their living by meeting people in person, building strong interpersonal relationships, picking up on others’ concerns by reading and interpreting body language, and generally just thriving by the real physical element of social interaction, virtual meetings didn’t initially sit well with me.
But truth be told, virtual meetings have been a godsend for many of us during the Covid-19 pandemic as we have had to distance ourselves and not go into public. They allow us to feel a sense of connection with others outside our home when we can’t leave it. They allow us to operate our businesses and stay functional in trying times. They allow us to “visit” our doctors even if we can’t get into the clinic to see them. And for me, they allow me to see my clients and help guide them through the financial turbulence that has occurred during this time as well.
So, what are my thoughts on this new virtual way of doing business in the financial advisory world? I think it’s here to stay, and after giving it some thought, I believe that may not be a bad thing.
Focusing on the effects virtual meetings will have on how clients access their financial planners and advice, I do not believe they will ever entirely take the place of in-person advisory meetings. I do not believe our industry can be commoditized to only exist virtually. Do not confuse the term “robo-advisor” with a virtual meeting. It’s not the same. A robo-advisor is just a computer that can help generate a portfolio based on what you tell it you want. It’s not a planner. It’s not something that can help think critically or proactively about your financial world. To me, too much personal connection exists in the relationship between a client and their advisor that it isn’t reasonable to think in any distant future that in-person meetings will ever be totally removed from the client-advisor experience. This is especially true with regard to advisors seeing prospective clients.
However, I do think virtual advisory meetings will lead to greater efficiencies and flexibility with the way clients access their financial planners, when they access them, how and even where. In fact, I think many clients will be better served by how the events surrounding Covid-19 have forced us to embrace technology and make a shift in what’s “normal.” The pandemic lockdowns probably accelerated my industry a decade or more in the matter of a few months. I believe it may do the same to many other industries.
So knowing that, what’s next for how you work with an advisor? I would imagine that even after the fear of the virus subsides, more meetings will be virtual, especially quick check-in meetings to make sure nothing in life has changed that would require you and your advisor to alter your long-term plan. I think advisors will focus on more digital experiences, even on-demand types of client interactions, to get those they serve the information they need. And I think it will allow us to help even more people, not just those in our “backyard,” meaning geography will matter less. However, I still believe strongly that there is great value in having in-person appointments and meetings and a physical office where clients can visit you, and all that comes with that, which simply cannot be replicated by staring at a screen. It just might be relied upon less.
Whatever the trend is in the industry moving forward, the client always comes first, and firms will adapt and overcome any obstacles that arise. As the best advisors always do, when times get tough, they push through and come out the other side stronger than they went in. We may look back on this as a great example of that.