As many companies reopen their offices after being closed for the last two years, one thing is clear: The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated a digital transformation across nearly every industry, including financial services. This has encouraged advisors to embrace virtual engagement with colleagues, partners and clients in new ways.
Since March 2020, most advisors have used remote meeting technology to maintain connections with their clients. While some clients have resumed meeting in person, the remote trend won’t be disappearing any time soon as it provides clients with convenient access to their advisors. Advisors continue to explore the many capabilities of remote meeting technology and are also reimagining how they can provide more personalized service to help support their clients’ financial goals.
Meanwhile, clients are looking for intuitive and seamless integration in a trusted financial partner, according to new research released by PYMNTS and Entersekt. Their report found that 53% of surveyed participants have more trust in their financial services providers when those organizations deliver “integrated, consistent, cross-device experiences.”
Best Practices for Improving Client Experience
While virtual meetings have become the “norm” for many of us, advisors are still finding areas of improvement so each client has an exceptional experience. Here are the six best practices our team at Thrivent Advisor Network is using to leverage digital tools to deliver purpose-based advice.
- Keep remote meetings shorter than in-person meetings. More distractions pop up during virtual meetings and there’s a strong urge to multi-task. It’s important to stay focused on the key points you want to deliver to keep your client’s attention.
- Don’t assume your clients heard you the first time. As stated above, most people can get distracted, so if something is urgent or imperative, repeat it. We’ve found the third time really is the charm!
- Pay attention to messaging and visuals. In virtual meetings, the quality of your message, as well as your on-screen visuals, carry more weight than they would during in-person meetings. Spending time and resources to intentionally design your meeting around your key points can increase your client’s engagement. While your relationship skills are still important here, don’t let unclear messages or dated graphics get in the way.
- Virtual is the great equalizer. Because our screens can make everyone appear the same, “authority” figures may seem less intimidating online. Consider using an agenda that’s presented on-screen to help establish your point of view throughout the conversation.
- Make it more personal. Consider kicking off the meeting with a fun ice breaker. Ask clients to step away from their computer to find something personal they can share. This could be artwork their grandchildren made for them, a souvenir from a recent trip, a quick turn of the camera to show their dog at their feet, or even the view outside their window.
- Stay aware of your client’s energy levels. Being on-camera makes people aware of their appearance and more concerned with regulating their behavior, which can cause clients to focus their attention on themselves, rather than the meeting. If you see this happening, ask questions to keep them engaged and “read the room” to determine if you need to end the meeting a little earlier than anticipated.
Ultimately, we recommend that advisors allow their clients to drive all their communication preferences. This includes how often they want to meet, if they’d like to hold in-person or virtual meetings, and whether they want to receive paper or electronic communications. These preferences should be reviewed with your clients at least once a year.
Personalize the Experience in New Ways
Earlier in the pandemic, we noticed that some of our older clients had a more difficult time adapting to remote meeting technology. However, today, we’re finding that it’s not as much of a challenge for them as the last two years have narrowed the gap in digital savviness by age group. The gap is not completely gone however, so advisors need to be ready to provide extra support for older clients who need it.
For example, be aware of font sizes and learn how to manipulate your display to enlarge information you are sharing. Also, limit the number of different pages you share and minimize the amount of moving back and forth between pages in a report to reduce confusion.
As advisors look for ways to accommodate their clients’ technological preferences while personalizing meetings to deepen relationships, many are moving beyond simply replicating an in-person meeting into a virtual setting. For example, custom virtual backgrounds, based on client type, can be used to interactively review investment performance.
Another interesting approach is inviting clients’ family members to be part of their virtual meeting, which is easier to coordinate than gathering everyone in the same room. This way, not only do clients’ children learn more about how their parents are planning for their future, but it provides an opportunity to establish a multi-generational relationship with each family. This increases the odds of maintaining the relationship for the long term.
Embrace the Power of Webinars
Providing accessible advice to larger audiences is another way to increase engagement with clients. At the height of the pandemic, Thrivent’s community engagement team worked with its 23 Thrivent Member Networks to deliver educational webinars, many of which were focused on providing financial advice. Between March and September 2020, the teams offered more than 1,800 virtual events, including webinars focused on financial topics such as Social Security, how to navigate a volatile market and planning for college. Teams have continued to build on this momentum. In 2021, Thrivent Member Networks delivered 3,330 events virtually.
The Future of Advice
We believe the future for advisors is bright. While we are confident that we will continue to see digital disrupters, such as robo-advisors and niche financial planning resources like behavioral finance tools, nothing can replace the deeply personal relationship between an advisor and their client.
Jeff Haines, enterprise architect with Thrivent Advisor Network, has more than 30 years of financial services industry experience, including consulting, software development and executive management. He has consulted with some of the largest financial services firms in the country to help them analyze and create solutions for business problems. He has worked directly with financial advisors to design client-focused processes that more effectively leverage their staff and technology.