When Stephanie Douglas and Paul Harris launched Toronto-based Harris Douglas Asset Management two years ago, they did so with a digital-first mindset, striving to grow their client base by building an online following. So, when the world moved onto the internet at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, they didn’t have to change many of their methods for finding new clients.
“Although Zoom was very new for us,” she says, “we’d already started on the whole digital marketing piece.”
Nevertheless, Ms. Douglas says she and Mr. Harris started increasing their communication efforts, such as the frequency of posts on their e-mail newsletter, sending their existing base of followers relevant stories on the financial pressures of the pandemic. Their readership took off.
But the numbers show Ms. Douglas and Mr. Harris are among the lucky ones. An estimated 51 per cent of financial advisors in the U.S. reported below-average results from their typical prospecting efforts as they made the transition to remote work last year, according to a Fidelity Investments survey conducted in May, 2020.
With traditional opportunities for meeting new clients organically – like in-person panels, community meetings, and networking events – shut down, advisors across have to get creative with how they build out their client rosters.
In the U.S., advisors who have adopted a “multi-channel” approach to prospecting after the start of COVID-19 saw the best results, the Fidelity survey says.
In fact, Ms. Douglas says having the opportunity to embrace a variety of media to engage with existing and prospective clients has been a “silver lining” during a trying time.
“Not everyone wants to interact face-to-face, not everyone wants a phone call. But now, you have different ways to communicate,” Ms. Douglas says. “I think that’s actually a positive. We have more options for how we interact with our clients.”
Other advisors across Canada have also found success in delivering useful, relevant content to clients and prospects online. Through explainer articles and webinars unpacking answers to complicated COVID-19-related financial questions, advisors are getting their names in front of potential clients, reinforcing their value to existing clients, and driving referrals, overall.
Melanie Johannink, an advisor with Johannink Financial Solutions Inc. at Sun Life Assurance Co. in Bolton, Ont., says she has taken that approach. She admits it was difficult to cease meeting clients in-person abruptly last March because that’s how she derived much of the joy she gets from her work. So, she chose to funnel her energy into something else entirely: Attending as many seminars on government supports for Canadians as she could.
“I would take that information, gather it and send it to clients,” she says. “Those clients were so thankful that they would forward it to their friends. ... So, you almost have this ripple effect going on in which you’re [a] subject matter expert. That really kind of gave me a wedge. I got a few leads out of it.”
Grant Hicks, president of Advisor Practice Management in Calgary, has steered the advisors he coaches toward hosting webinars for a similar reason. In discussing the benefit of doing so, he doesn’t mince words.
“A webinar is an excuse for communication. Put the webinar on and let people know,” he says, adding that the first-ever webinar he held was a “smashing success,” with seven appointments booked afterward.
In building those connections, Mr. Hicks has also pushed the advisors he works with to approach new clients as if they’re approaching an entire family. By leaning into intergenerational planning for the whole family, advisors can double or triple their client base with each new prospect – and it all starts with opening the door to conversations about the children.
“Getting trust from existing clients’ families, it can’t get any easier than that,” he says. “Because there’s no awkward ‘Who are you? What do you do? Are you any good?’ I’ve been your advisor for 10 years.”
Mr. Hicks recently wrote a blog post about the merits of planning for the whole family rather than individuals.
“The next time you segment your database, make sure you understand if there are potential wealthy family members that you see as a potential opportunity as an ideal client,” he wrote.
And with various degrees of COVID-19 lockdowns still affecting most parts of the country, there’s no better time to reach Canadians who have extra time on their hands.
In fact, Ms. Johannink says she’s had luck contacting prospects she approached prior to the pandemic, who weren’t ready to work with an advisor at the time. However, a few months into COVID-19, many were ready to get their affairs in order – so she jumped on the opportunity.
“They were actually quite positive come the pandemic,” she says. “You’re reaching out to them again and they’re like, ‘Oh yeah, I remember that! Yeah, we could do something about it.’”