The speedy integration of virtual meetings into the core of financial adviser businesses has been one of the most notable adaptions during the coronavirus pandemic. Here, Julie Best explores how it is affecting financial planners' interactions with clients...
At NextWealth we've previously looked at the tiptoeing shift of financial planning work online, one process at a time. Some aspects of the job flowed readily to online solutions, and others are carefully guarded as things that can only be done properly with a client in the room. And then, overnight, the financial planning sector has taken to Zoom calling clients (and other online meeting technology) like a duck to water.
More than just an immediate necessity, many of the firms we've spoken to are finding lasting positives in the new way of working, with efficiencies that we think will benefit advice businesses beyond the current crisis.
First, however, a disclaimer and a warning: video meetings obviously require all parties to be comfortable using the technology, and working with vulnerable clients is a tricky area that we're going to be looking at in more depth. Indeed, the speed of the transition to Zoom has led to some firms skipping over the due diligence that they would otherwise have undertaken when implementing a new system. After all, the Cabinet Office were using it so it must be safe!
Darren Cooke at Red Circle Financial Planning was the first to alert us to "Zoom-bombing" and to advise a number of measures to ensure that clients' information and calls are secure. One of his clients has been banned from using Zoom by their company for security reasons.
In order to safeguard, advisers need to make sure meetings are password-protected, use a random number for the meeting code and always use the virtual waiting room facility to restrict access to the call to only those who are expected and permitted to join.
On the positive side, most of the planners we've spoken to are embracing the technology and finding surprise efficiencies with meetings starting on time and running shorter than face-to-face meetings even with the niceties and chit chat.
There is a "thing" though, Adrian Murphy at Glasgow-based Murphy Wealth shared with us, called "Zoom fatigue". Planners have to "concentrate harder than if we were sitting in the office chatting away. It's more intense that face-to-face because you don't have the other cues like body language and physical tics and tells so you're having to focus even more on what people are saying".
VS Associates' Victor Sacks mourns the temporary loss of his "secret weapon": body language assessment that was part of his training in his earlier bancassurance days at HSBC. "When I'm talking through something I want to see if it makes them flinch; what are they fearful of? I need to see if their foot twitches or if their hands are nervous."
Screen-sharing compounds the issue of not being able to observe body language. As Darren Cooke describes: "While I'm sharing the cash flow planning that is on my screen I can only see the client in the little thumbnail image so it's hard to see expressions and makes it easy to miss the intricacies."
Working with couples is another issue: ordinarily planners would be watching carefully to see how clients look at one another and react to what is being discussed.
Conducting Zoom meetings is a skill, and something that improves with practice and knowledge. The Murphy Wealth team are using some of their time to do some tailored sales training via Zoom, with a specific focus on how working online with clients changes the experience.
Murphy Wealth are early tech adopters and are also getting onboard with a new behavioural app created by Be-IQ. "It's absolutely fantastic", says Murphy. "It's about pulling out behavioral biases in relation to finance. We can talk to clients about their behaviours and understand how they will react in different situations and their emotional triggers; what language will they respond to better. It allows us to start segmenting clients by behaviour."
For our part, we've switched to interviewing financial planners over Zoom for our research reports, and my personal experience is that by recording the call (with permission) and watching back certain sections, I can observe so much more than I noticed during the live conversation.
The added intensity and immediacy of being on camera for one makes you concentrate more on what you're going to say next, and secondly our brains are trained to scan for and analyse faces. If you were to conduct a client meeting sat in front of a mirror, for instance, then, vanity aside, some of your attention would be automatically diverted to observing your own face as well as the clients'.
While video meetings may present challenges, it is worth remembering that some firms were already actively choosing to conduct some of their business this way. At NextWealth we think video meetings will retain their place in the planning process when the current situation has passed.
Julie Best is a qualitative researcher at NextWealth
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