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The validity of electronic signatures has been a game-changer as it vastly reduced the back-and-forth liaising required for investment accounts and financial planning documentation.ronstik/iStockPhoto / Getty Images

The COVID-19 pandemic has led Canada’s Top Wealth Advisors to embrace the technology they once eschewed to maintain client relationships and overall productivity. That’s leading to some permanent changes in the way they interact with clients and staff and how they manage their businesses.

“How we serve clients has changed,” says Darcie Crowe, senior vice-president and portfolio manager with Crowe Private Wealth at Canaccord Genuity Wealth Management in Vancouver. “We still provide individualized advice, but we have adopted more digital practices in how we interact with clients. Those technologies [such as videoconferencing] are now accepted widely.”

With a clientele located in British Columbia and Ontario, Ms. Crowe travelled between Vancouver and Toronto every month. But at the start of the pandemic, she started conducting virtual meetings instead.

While the concept of videoconferencing has existed for some time, clients only embraced virtual meetings when they had fewer alternatives because of lockdowns and other restrictions, she says.

The validity of electronic signatures has also been a game-changer for Ms. Crowe as it vastly reduced the back-and-forth liaising required for investment accounts and financial planning documentation. She says e-signatures are an example of how the pandemic forced the investment industry to modernize certain processes that were hindering an advisor’s ability to serve clients effectively.

“E-signatures alleviate a lot of frustration for clients not in a situation in which they could [come into our offices] to sign a document quickly,” she says.

Ms. Crowe has also been advising clients on aspects of their financial plans they had not prioritized, such as estate planning. And she’s having more conversations about their revised lifestyle goals.

“The pandemic really changed how clients view their wealth,” she says. “It changed their ideas on where they want to live, work, and when they want to retire.”

Karen Harrison’s practice was already well-positioned for the pandemic shutdowns as she and her partner, Paul – also her husband – have worked remotely every winter and summer for the past decade.

The Harrisons, both senior vice-presidents and portfolio managers with the Harrison Group at Canaccord Genuity Wealth Management in Calgary, were used to working with clients extensively over the phone and e-mail. Ms. Harrison says their clients adjusted well when the team introduced videoconference meetings during the pandemic.

Getting comfortable with technology

For David Bluteau, wealth management advisor and portfolio manager with the Bluteau Caseley Wealth Management Group at National Bank Financial Wealth Management in Halifax, the pandemic lifestyle of no suit and tie and no business lunches was certainly an adjustment. Before the pandemic, he conducted meetings in his office, at clients’ homes, or during a meal at a restaurant. But like all advisors, he switched to virtual in 2020.

“I like the efficient nature of virtual meetings, which allows us to communicate more often with clients,” he says.

I don’t buy that some clients are too old to try something new

Rob McClelland, vice-president and senior financial planning advisor with the McClelland Financial Group at Assante Capital Management Ltd. in Thornhill, Ont.

One challenge in embracing virtual meetings was educating older clients on how to use videoconferencing tools, says Rob McClelland, vice-president and senior financial planning advisor with the McClelland Financial Group at Assante Capital Management Ltd. in Thornhill, Ont.

Ultimately, he decided it was worth the time training each client who needed assistance. Mr. McClelland’s team worked directly with affected clients 30 minutes before a scheduled meeting. To his pleasant surprise, around 95 per cent of his client base became comfortable with using the technology.

“I don’t buy that some clients are too old to try something new,” he says.

Besides client virtual meetings, Mr. McClelland came to enjoy working at home – where he wouldn’t be interrupted by the constant office bustle – to concentrate on strategy and forward-thinking initiatives. As such, he has decided that a hybrid workplace is the best approach for his team.

Advantages of working remotely

Currently, the team works three days a week in the office and two days at home, with plans to move up to four days in the office starting in January.

Mr. McClelland plans to get rid of his boardroom and relegate the Monday staff meeting to videoconference.

“We don’t feel we need to all be there for the team meeting and that’s going to free up space within the office,” he says.

Mr. McClelland also stopped printing out client meeting packages as they required a lot of paper and printing. They’re now sent to clients via e-mail through an online portal.

Now that pandemic restrictions have started to lift in most provinces, many advisors have reconnected with clients in person. Mr. McClelland started meeting some clients in September with a caveat – clients need to be fully vaccinated. His team, in turn, are all fully vaccinated.

“We’ve been really careful all along and want to continue to be,” he says.

So far, he’s not had any pushback from clients on the issue.

Mr. Bluteau actually conducted some face-to-face meetings for the past year when permitted as Nova Scotia, fared better than many other provinces, for the most part, during the pandemic.

I’ve always been a believer that if your clients invest their time coming to see you, they’re more invested in the relationship and your process

Karen Harrison, Canaccord Genuity Wealth Management

However, Ms. Harrison senses that many clients still prefer virtual and just aren’t ready to attend a meeting in person.

When she notified her clients about the office’s reopening this past summer, she received a tepid response. Out of 200 client households, only seven seemed interested in getting together face to face.

“There hasn’t been a lot of demand at this point, and in a way, I don’t like that,” she says. “I’ve always been a believer that if your clients invest their time coming to see you, they’re more invested in the relationship and your process.”

Ms. Crowe believes more in-person meetings will come in time – she recently resumed her monthly travel between Toronto and Vancouver – and will continue to play a significant part in an advisor’s practice.

Nevertheless, she also says the pandemic brought “lasting changes now that we have the tools to do some of the work and meetings remotely.”

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