Industry experts say the coronavirus pandemic will change the face of financial advice forever as digital meetings become the “new normal”, but advisers say face-to-face interactions are still crucial.
Advisers have adapted quickly to the government's new rules imposed on 23 March to limit the spread of coronavirus, but foreign secretary Dominic Raab's recent extension to the lockdown has compounded the question - will coronavirus have a lasting impact on the profession?
In a Twitter poll on Tuesday (14 April), Boring Money managing director Holly McKay asked advisers what percentage of client meetings will still be done with video calls once the lockdown is over.
Out of 134 votes, a third said "40% plus, it's the new normal", compared to just over a fifth who believed adviser life will go back to how it was before, answering "minimal - prefer in person".
Adviser compliance and support firm The Verve Group founder Cathi Harrison said she believed the change would be long-lasting: "This situation is going to go on for such a long time that it will be really hard to go back to how we were. Advisers and firms are having to change the way they deal with clients and clients are adapting too.
"Sixty, seventy and eighty year olds who would never have dreamt of getting on a Zoom call with their advisers now haven't got a choice. And once they've had the call and got the reassurance they wanted, they realise it wasn't so bad. Everybody is being pushed beyond their boundaries."
Echelon Wealthcare principal and IFA Alastair Rush said while working remotely has allowed him to fit more client meetings into each day, video calling did not work for every interaction.
"I still think you need to do face-to-face meeting with clients really for rapport building and finding what makes people tick. You wouldn't chat up a girl over Zoom," he said.
Rush said advisers would likely conduct more video meetings with clients after lockdown than before, but meetings of this type were a "good fallback", rather than a new normal.
"I don't think we'll change our working patterns quickly because of this lockdown. I think people will start using Zoom more anyway, but many people still like to have something in the post, rather than email.
"I think nothing meets the value of a face-to-face discussion and building a rapport with someone: you can't pick up unspoken nuances. Zoom is far more transactional - it's convenient and handy but I don't think its as good for building rapport and relationships."
He added it was difficult to determine a client's vulnerability via video call and was far "safer and easier" during physical meetings, stressing video calls were suited to only certain types of meetings.
"It depends not only on the type of client but the type of call you're having, if you're an adviser and you're trying to do a fact find over zoom I think it's completely different to doing a quick servicing call," he continued.
"[Zoom] is more efficient but that doesn't mean to say efficiency is better. A good bottle of wine will taste a lot better so sometimes it's worth paying for something more expensive and I don't think efficiently should be the overriding factor."
Catalyst for change
GBST head of EMEA David Simpson said switching to virtual operations was more challenging for some businesses than others.
"The ability to operate virtually has long been at the heart of our business and we're used to working flexibly, switching from the office, to on-site with clients, to providing uninterrupted support from home. It's more difficult for businesses with lots of legacy technology and manual processes which can't easily be transferred to working remotely," he said.
However, Simpson said he expected the current situation to be a catalyst for change.
"Even before the current crisis, advisers and their clients were increasingly expecting businesses to operate online and provide access and support 24/7. Financial services companies were also looking at the cost benefits of using technology to create efficiencies and storing data in the cloud, which is more accessible and cheaper to maintain than to have it sitting in expensive physical bunkers," he said.
"We'd expect the current lockdown to accelerate these reviews and be a trigger for providers to make lasting changes to their operations."
Meanwhile, Cathi Harrison said she had seen benefits for her business, exemplifying the efficiency benefits created by the new coronavirus rules.
"Some people much prefer working from home, we don't have to spend so much on offices, we can build closer relationships with clients now that going on a video call doesn't feel like such a big thing. A lot of what we're doing now will be seen as positives and things won't just flip back to how they were," she said.
"When we come out the other side of this, we won't go all the way back to how we were before. It will accelerate change, not just in financial services, but in so many different industries."
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