The longest bull market in history is over. It was good while it lasted, rewarding investors with rich returns during its almost 11-year run. But financial advisors have no time to reflect on the glory days because they’re now facing a huge strategic challenge – navigating clients deftly through market turbulence and the impact of COVID-19.
There’s no playbook advisors can use in these current market conditions, mainly because fintech was scarce during the previous global financial crisis and the coronavirus pandemic is like no other challenge in living memory. But for advisors who have spent recent years honing a hybrid client-engagement model – part-human, part-digital – there’s no better setup for the difficult months ahead.
Sure, robo-advisors remain popular with younger investors. But some of those millennials might have an unpleasant surprise in store. Although robo-advisors offer low fees and a user-friendly interface, it would be hard to argue that they provide the sophisticated, rational, long-term insight of an experienced human advisor. An advisor’s wisdom is essential for investors whose nerves are fraying as the market wobbles. Inexperienced, unguided investors are more prone to irrational impulses, such as selling during a downturn, or even buying stocks that look superficially cheap.
That’s why advisors need to focus on the human touch, reach out to clients and personalize the experience wherever possible. Still, advisors will be rewarded for initiating digital campaigns that address market volatility and the COVID-19 pandemic directly. Now is the time for market updates, videos, industry commentary and free webinars via e-mail, mobile messaging and social media. (Of course, phone and video calls will be the perfect side dish to this virtual engagement while in-person meetings are unfeasible.)
We cannot overestimate the value of reaching out to clients to reassure them you’re aware of these challenging times, to reaffirm your availability and to respond to their demand for information. It will remind investors that they’re dealing with a real person, which is crucial during uncertain times – and even more so now that physical distancing measures are starting to take their toll.
That means it’s important for advisors to show their human side. The younger generation of investors may flirt with robo-advisors, but almost four in five of them believe that in-person communication is the best way to build trust with an advisor, according to a survey that Broadridge Financial Solutions Inc.* conducted in 2018.
Advisors must also remember there’s a person at the other end and continue to cater to investors’ demands for greater personalization in their relationships with service providers. It’s crucial to get this right because one-quarter of clients surveyed for another report said they walked away from a company not because of products or poor service, but because the firm did a bad job of personalizing their experience.
Millennials are especially difficult to please as 35 per cent of them say that a hollow customer experience would cause them to look elsewhere. Advisors cannot simply dismiss this generation because they stand to inherit the earth. Canadian millennials alone are expected to inherit $1-trillion between 2016 and 2026 – and that giant intergenerational transfer of wealth will mean that advisors’ minor accounts today might be their largest accounts tomorrow.
As the wealth cascades down, there will be opportunities for building a book of business. Around 40 per cent of advisors plan to retire within the next 10 years and almost half of high-net-worth practices report that beneficiaries are switching advisors after inheriting assets.
Satisfying millennials’ demands for increased personalization is where it gets complicated. Millennials profess to value human interaction, but they also expect most services to be delivered digitally. They also have high standards. In fact, they demand the same seamless customer experience from their advisor that they receive from their digital services and hardware providers.
That means being reachable by mobile, e-mail and text messages – as well as providing access to up-to-date account information online – are table stakes for advisors. In fact, the use of text messaging among advisors in the U.S. is surging, with 55 per cent of professionals already using the technology or considering its use, according to a recent TD Ameritrade Institutional report. Savvy Canadian advisors are not far behind.
Advisors will choose their own digital engagement recipe, but millennials will be judging them on whether it delivers the sophisticated, personalized advice they crave. Simply put, the new breed of advisor needs to be data-enabled, laser-focused on clients, holistic and available 24/7.
The next few months will be a formidable stress-test for advisors’ client-engagement models – and not everyone will flourish. A robust hybrid strategy that allows advisors to offer sophisticated advice that addresses a client’s particular life goals or wider investment strategy was a sensible idea even during the bull market, but it will be even more valuable now.
*Donna Bristow is managing director, North American Wealth, at Broadridge Financial Solutions Inc. in Toronto.