For many financial advisors, summer is a great time to kick back, head to the cottage, plug in and do some work while looking out at the lake. However, there are other advisors who see this time of the year as the perfect opportunity to venture further afield on an international vacation. For these advisors, the need to leverage technology to stay in touch with their offices and clients – as well as to take care of any emergencies or any important matters that may come up – is crucial.
Bily Xiao, principal and advisor at Vancouver-based Mobius Wealth, is a solo practitioner who is always reachable when he spends around two months a year travelling throughout Canada, the United States and Asia.
“If there are super-urgent issues, I would carve out time from my vacation. It’s just part of the way I have designed and accepted my practice, at least at this stage,” says Mr. Xiao, who uses technology to stay in touch with clients on the road and remain responsive – no matter where he is.
For example, when Mr. Xiao was in Japan on vacation in 2017, he received a referral for a new client. As he was still in the process of building his business, he wanted to take advantage of the opportunity – even though it was the middle of the night in Japan and he was in a hotel.
“I could just head out to the lobby, hop onto WiFi, pull up my [smart]phone and do a face-to-face chat with the [prospective client],” he recalls. Specifically, he used the Zoom video conferencing software on his iPhone to get to know his new prospect. “The [prospect was] ready to move forward as a client, and because of the tools and the onboarding processes I selected, I ensured I could do that online.”
Mr. Xiao uses Snap Projections, a cloud-based financial planning tool for advisors. Canada Life Assurance Co. handles the insurance applications he files online, and he uses SignNow, Docsketch and DocuSign to handle the electronic signing of engagement documents.
As a fee-only financial planner, he uses Rotessa Payments and Plooto, both of which enable him to set up recurring payments from his clients, and he uses Quickbooks Online for invoicing.
Finally, he uses two productivity tools to help keep him organized when managing clients on the road. The first is Trello, a web-based visual planning tool that mirrors the Kanban board planning system. The second is a list-based system called Todoist.
Although some advisors, like Mr. Xiao, may fly solo, others go on vacation with a team at home to help them manage their businesses while away from the office. As such, Stephen Jackson, associate professor with the faculty of business and information technology at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology in Oshawa, Ont., says that tools such as Trello can also be useful to manage team projects, enabling advisors to check in on how things are going from afar.
“You can track tasks in terms of prioritization and what’s most important,” he says. “You can also check on key dates and you can examine the progress in terms of how your team members are getting with particular projects.”
Team-management software came in handy for Paul Sabat, managing partner, president and financial planner at Summit Wealth Advisory Group Inc. in Toronto, who was on a three-week vacation in the Port of Sorrento, Italy, when he spoke with The Globe and Mail.
The extended trip took some careful planning. Even though he has a team at the office, he wanted to be in touch for at least part of his trip. “I mapped out the first seven days and disconnected,” Mr. Sabat says, adding that he set his customer-facing email to auto-reply. The operations manager agreed to only message him in the most dire emergencies to get his attention.
After that, he turned off auto-reply and spent an hour each morning working, accessing the company’s Microsoft Teams group communications tool, which lets his team share communications instead of sending internal emails. Using just his smartphone, he can also access 20 years of client files via Microsoft Corp.’s SharePoint document management system. However, because of his lengthy vacation, he took a laptop, too.
The key to accessing all these services is online connectivity. It’s getting easier to stay connected anywhere in the world, but there are different approaches to doing so. Mr. Xiao will often have two SIM cards for his smartphone: his Canadian one, which he uses to take incoming calls, and one from a local telecommunications provider where he’s staying. He’ll use that local data plan to handle longer online conferencing calls, including video.
Mr. Sabat relies solely on his Canadian carrier, Rogers Communications Inc., which offers an international “Roam Like Home” plan that gives him international access to his monthly data plan for $12 a day. Telus Corp.’s “Easy Roam” and BCE Inc.’s “Roam Better” offer identical international pricing, although all three options are cheaper when in the U.S.