As financial advisors pivoted quickly to carry out their daily business from home, several technological tools once considered optional have proven invaluable during the COVID-19 crisis. In turn, many are planning to integrate them permanently into their businesses.
Angela Shryane, senior financial advisor, insurance advisor and co-branch manager at Assante Capital Management Ltd. in Toronto, says her clients have been used to in-person meetings and receiving quarterly newsletters in the mail. While she has used some tech tools over the years, she admits she hadn’t taken full advantage of them until the current crisis hit.
“I’ve been nervous to make the change, but because we were forced to, it’s opened my mind to say, ‘There’s more than one way of getting from point A to point B, and there are tools that can be used [to do so] that don’t take away from client relationships.’ In fact, I think those tools can be used to enhance your relationships, actually,” she says
Ms. Shryane has implemented several new tech-focused practices that she expects to use even after her office re-opens. These include the ability to meet with some clients via videoconferencing, communicating with staff via Microsoft Teams, sending out newsletters via e-mail and using DocuSign, which allows clients to authorize transactions remotely with an electronic signature.
Ilana Schonwetter, investment advisor with BlueShore Financial in Vancouver, also credits secure, e-signature technology with the ability to operate as normal as possible during the pandemic.
While tools such as these have been available for some time and some advisors had already embraced them, Ms. Schonwetter says she hasn’t had the need to use them consistently.
“Being forced to [use these tools] now out of the sheer need has shown us the efficiencies of integrating them. ... I think we will continue to use them because we’ve seen just how convenient and how useful they actually are,” she says.
Furthermore, Ms. Schonwetter says that those clients who have experienced the advantages and convenience of using tools like e-signatures during the past few months will likely continue to request them – even when they’ll be able to visit her office again.
“There’s no way that they’re going to go back to having to get into their cars, drive over and physically sign a piece of paper,” she says.
Ms. Schonwetter also expects more clients to request virtual meetings via videoconferencing once the pandemic ends. In the past, there was resistance from some clients to attend meetings this way. For example, snowbirds or travellers were more likely to decline the option to meet virtually in favour of waiting until they returned to Canada.
“Now that they have stepped out of their comfort zone a little bit and experienced [this technology], they’ve found that it works, it’s not that scary and it’s actually rather convenient, I think it’ll be embraced more and more,” she says.
Ms. Schonwetter also expects videoconferencing to remain a popular option for meetings involving multiple parties, such as family members and business partners who were unable to gather in one location during the pandemic.
Laura Prust, portfolio manager with Steele Wealth Management at Raymond James Ltd. in Waterloo, Ont., was already accustomed to having meetings online with cross-border clients before the pandemic. What the current situation has changed is clients’ level of comfort with the video component of these conversations.
“Before [the pandemic], we would just be sharing screens and talking through review material. There wasn’t that quasi face-to-face piece – and people were almost relieved we weren’t doing that. But now, we’re finding that people really need it,” she says.
As such, Ms. Prust expects the face-to-face approach to be the new normal for advisor-client remote meetings. More broadly, she says it will be important for advisors to continue to accommodate clients who wish to meet via videoconferencing once offices re-open as some may remain uncomfortable with in-person meetings for some time still.
“When you have a long, prolonged shift of isolation and people being concerned about their health, [getting back to the old normal is] not a week-long thing. Some of these attitudes and concerns are going to really stick with some people,” Ms. Prust says.
Indeed, Ms. Shryane says integrating new tools into her business permanently after the pandemic will allow her more options for personalizing clients’ experiences based on their comfort levels and preferences.
“I think this has really opened our eyes that there’s a lot of good stuff out there that we can use and continue running our business in potentially a more efficient manner,” Ms. Shryane says. “Now that I’ve crossed over, I’m asking, ‘Why didn’t we do this before?’”