Financial advisors are grappling with the potential of renewed restrictions amid the rise of the COVID-19 Delta variant as they work to improve serving clients in a hybrid environment. Some investors are rushing to return to in-person meetings, others want more permanent remote correspondence.
One thing is certain: there is no “one-size-fits-all” model. Now, more than ever, advisors need to adapt their practices to meet clients where they are – virtually or in-person.
With no “return to normal” in sight, here are four ways advisors can prepare their practices for whatever comes next:
1. Embrace technology to engage clients further
According to a recent AdvisorStream survey of 1,000 advisors in North America, demand from their clients for communication has risen by almost 50 per cent. That means advisors need to ensure they have the proper technology to provide the advice and reassurance investors seek.
That’s particularly the case when it comes to video conferencing, which has moved from being a temporary measure to a critical tool – and it’s not going away any time soon. Advisors need to be equipped with the best technology to meet clients from behind the computer screen.
A recent Broadridge Financial Solutions Inc.* study found that 77 per cent of North American advisors reported losing business due to inadequate technology tools for client interaction, demonstrating that clients have made it enough of a priority to actually break with an advisor to find one that better meets their needs.
It’s no surprise that digital communication prevailed amid the lockdowns. Investors and advisors could communicate no other way. It’s clear the high-touch, high-tech experience is here to stay. Smart advisors will need the right tools and the right mindset to meet these new expectations.
2. Make client service a family experience
Approximately $1-trillion in personal wealth will be transferred to the next-generation of investors during the next decade. That means advisors have a once-in-a-career opportunity to capture assets from one of the greatest intergenerational wealth shifts in history by connecting with existing clients more deeply.
A Broadridge study of North American investors found that almost half of advisors have not communicated with those who will inherit or influence their current clients. Furthermore, 32 per cent of Canadian investors say they first discovered their advisor through a personal referral, demonstrating that word of mouth is still one of the most powerful marketing tools. If advisors are not connecting with their clients’ children or heirs, they’re leaving millions of dollars on the table.
Over the past year, advisors were more likely to be seen on a computer screen in a living room or kitchen table than at their branch or over a meal at a restaurant. That’s a step in the right direction toward building better multi-generational ties – and now is the time to double down. Whether it’s inviting your clients’ families to virtual events, arranging experiences for heirs in an in-person world, or something in between, there’s much at stake.
3. Focus on the impact of ‘The Great Resignation’
Many workers are leaving their jobs for new ones or quitting the work force altogether – so much so that the movement has been coined “The Great Resignation.” According to a Microsoft Corp. survey of more than 30,000 global workers, 41 per cent were considering quitting or changing professions this year, with 46 per cent planning to move employers because they can now work remotely.
Faced with such a societal sea change, advisors should re-evaluate the mix of topics they raise with clients. Perhaps clients are in the initial stages of considering an early or semi-retirement. Maybe their children are forgoing a corporate career for something with lower earning potential, yielding considerations for estate planning.
Advisors have a unique opportunity to help guide clients through this volatile, challenging time in life – not only from an investment perspective but also from a wellness one. That’s especially important as investors are increasingly looking to their advisors to do more than just manage their assets; they expect expert advice at every stage of their life journey.
4. Highlight the value of the human touch
With retail brokerage applications and robo-advisors gaining a hold on the market, advisors need to accept that the rise in technology focused on serving retail investors is here to stay.
According to Toronto-based Investor Economics Inc., total online brokerage accounts increased by 2.9-million to 10.6-million from March, 2020 to March, 2021. A recent Dalbar Inc. study found that 82 per cent of investors in North America were satisfied with their robo-advisor during the pandemic-induced market crisis of March, 2020, compared with 71 per cent of investors using a human advisor.
But as with every other recent advance, the outcome is hybrid: the new resources are an addition rather than a replacement. While robo-advisors and self-directed trading continue to rise in popularity, it’s no surprise the Dalbar study found that human advisors were more likely than robo-advisors to communicate during the volatility, or that a full 90 per cent of investors who use robo-advisors reported that their account balance was higher due to help from a human advisor.
So, while more people appreciate the flexibility of investing at the touch of a button through self-directed brokerages and robo-advisors, nothing has yet replaced human advice. That’s especially true during a time of market volatility or when working through a holistic life plan.
Advisors should lean into their clients’ use of these technology platforms, meeting them at the investing intersection they prefer. Advisors can still provide new and exciting investment vehicles that are additive to clients’ needs and financial goals.
*Donna Bristow is managing director, North American Wealth, at Broadridge Financial Solutions Inc. in Toronto.