The COVID-19 crisis has had a notable impact on the way financial advisors conduct their day-to-day operations. One of the ways it has affected Peter Guay, portfolio manager at PWL Capital Inc. in Montreal, is that he has had to revamp his client appreciation strategy completely.
In a typical year, he would recognize his clients by sending them gifts, inviting them to see interesting speakers, tennis tournaments and other lavish in-person events. But when lockdown orders came down in March, in-person gatherings were suddenly off the table. Finding himself with extra budget on his hands, Mr. Guay started making donations to local food banks and other charitable causes on his clients’ behalf.
It’s a strategy he hopes to keep up with even as lockdown orders loosen across the country. Mr. Guay says using philanthropy as a way to show his appreciation not only better serves his client’s needs, it also sparks useful dialogue around their personal values and approaches to charitable giving.
“Clients oftentimes get enough things that they don’t necessarily want,” he says. “We would speak to clients about their preferred charities to get ideas of what our clients hold as important … that has fostered some very, very powerful conversations.”
Mr. Guay is one of many advisors across Canada who has had to get creative with the way they show clients appreciation while the pandemic has rendered in-person events impossible.
“The one thing that’s fallen by the wayside very, very quickly is the [summer] barbecue,” says Greg Pollock, president and chief executive officer of Advocis, the Financial Advisors Association of Canada. “They’re virtually dead. And that’s creating an opportunity of finding other ways to recognize the relationship between advisors and their clients.”
Mr. Pollock says he’s seen advisors test out “unique” strategies for client appreciation to replace the typical summer barbecue. Some are sending handwritten cards, baked goods and care packages; some are hosting virtual coffee meetings or information sessions; and others are offering drive-through advice sessions outdoors.
Jeanette Brox, senior financial consultant at IG Wealth Management in Toronto, has spent this summer inviting her clients to virtual concerts and Q&A sessions with well-known Canadian talent like singer-songwriter Alan Frew and hockey player Hayley Wickenheiser. Her firm typically hosts an annual comedy tour each October, which Ms. Brox says is wildly popular among her core client base. But when it was cancelled this year due to COVID-19 restrictions, her firm moved its appreciation events online. She says client attendance has never been higher.
“People are at home. If we would have held this somewhere at 7 p.m. in Toronto, [many clients would say], ‘I don’t know if I’m coming out for it on a Thursday night,’” Ms. Brox says.
With most Canadians sheltering in place, she says reaching her clients to show her appreciation in routine ways is easier than ever. While she’d normally take them out to lunch or make them celebratory baked goods, Ms. Brox is now calling her clients to say she’s thinking about them.
“I can speak to them on the phone, everybody’s home,” she says. “And they’re so grateful, especially the people who are on their own.”
While restrictions on hosting large, grandiose events continue, Ms. Brox urges other advisors to go back to the basics. “Don’t reinvent the wheel, work with the tools that you have,” she says. Checking in on clients and sending them notes or bouquets of flowers to show you’re thinking about them has proven highly effective amid turbulent times.
“It’s critical to stay in touch with people and have a conversation about how are they feeling because there’s so much uncertainty,” Ms. Brox says.
Mr. Pollock says advisors who are rethinking their client appreciation strategies should look closely at what their clients really want.
“Do a little bit of an internal, informal survey among some of [your] most trusted clients and try to discern what would be most meaningful to them,” he says, noting that if you become too invested in planning something elaborate, you could miss the little things your clients say they truly value.
“Determine that from a small group of clients. Then, you could use that to leverage the ideas with the remainder of your client base,” he adds.
Mr. Guay took a similar approach when consulting his clients for their opinions on philanthropic giving. He says asking them directly where they’d like donations to be made in their name deepened his rapport with these clients and offered them an outlet to feel like they were giving back to a world in disrepair.
“It fosters a much better understanding of their values and what drives them,” he says. “It helps in all the other decision-making around the advice that I give them.”