There are some great reasons to go digital in your advice process, especially if you live in a city where traffic gridlock, exorbitant parking costs and insane commercial rents drive up your overheads and kill your productivity.
For many financial advisers now of course, there is no choice but to go digital-only. Some have embraced it, and I know advisers who are busier than ever picking up new clients and doing new business. I also know some who believe they cannot do business that way. Perhaps the difference is simply one’s willingness to try.
One adviser asked me recently about doing business with people he had never actually met – they had only had a series of “digital” encounters. The client had approached their business via their website, email discussions ensured, client completed a thorough fact-finding questionnaire and returned it….and business was eventually done and the adviser picked up a new client.
Then the adviser began to worry. Was this was “acceptable” practice? Would it create additional regulatory scrutiny, or issues? What extra things should he have done over and above his usual highly compliant and professional advice process?
Is it acceptable practice? Hell yes. I once met an adviser who ONLY delivered advice digitally. That adviser specialised in working with expats who were based somewhere else in the world. Highly personalised advice was delivered by him to them, usually at 3 am our time…but it worked for him and for the clients and there was nothing missing from a compliance perspective…if anything it was a better audit trail than one usually sees.
Does it require extra scrutiny? Hell no…not if you are doing your job as professionally as usual, and following your compliant process. It is just advice delivered without the traffic jam and a whiteboard isn’t it?
What extra things do I have to do? Realistically the only difference is not an “extra thing”, but a different way of doing a regular thing. That is, obtaining consent or signatures. Consent can be evidenced digitally in a number of ways – including video I would suggest. Signatures can be obtained with a little manual work-around by emailing back and forth of course, or even more rapidly using dedicated applications that enable live editing and insertion of electronic signatures (e.g. Docu-sign). There are even applications that enable handover of documents electronically during the session from presenter to client for them to sign on screen and then hand back – all of which could actually be recorded live as well. The point is simply this: there are digital solutions to digital sales problems.
Speaking personally, one of the best clients I ever had was a couple that I have still never met. They are in fact still clients some 17 years later. I still have never met them in person.
My introduction to them was slightly different in the context of the times, and we initially talked on the phone and sent reports by snail mail…with email following soon after. During that initial engagement though the process of providing advice was exactly the same as for anyone else…just slower back then. What might have been achieved in a 2 hour meeting in person actually took several weeks of to’ing and fro’ing. In fact, by the time we had spent many months swapping information and building an enormous paper trail, the end result was that this young husband and wife became one of the biggest personal accounts I ever managed. It all began with a complete risk management program, which was appropriate for them at that stage of their life. In a relatively short period of time they became fantastic savings and investment clients as their careers blossomed – and for some years their planning requirements rose exponentially as well.
We spoke on the phone regularly (as they lived in a different city to me), and emailed regularly and abundantly – but we never met. It was during the second full annual review (I think) when I was wondering how happy they were with the remote advisory relationship that I began to understand the power of the electronic process of engagement.
The clients told me the 3 things they really liked about how it had all been managed were:
- They felt comfortable with having all the advice in writing (via email mostly), and having “time” to consider each element of the advice as it was delivered – and modify or vary along the way.
- They felt less embarrassed talking about their personal finances, goals, and medical history with someone who was simply an objective professional (and not part of their business or social communities)
- They felt like they were in control of the process, and it moved at a pace they managed.
The thing that stood out though was that the very remoteness of the engagement enhanced the professional objectivity for both parties. As an adviser I felt highly comfortable with adopting a more analytical and objective style, that was as objective as one can get. As clients, they felt they could be entirely frank as there was no social or professional awkwardness and recommendations and rationale were all laid out logically.
Over time other clients were gained and managed the same way, with essentially the same results, and it is a process of advising that I became very comfortable with. Since then however, particularly in the last 5 years, the entire process has sped up enormously. In fact as the world has gone digital on everything from ordering dinner to turning on the heating in the house while commuting home, the process has sped up to the point where I’d suggest digital engagement now is actually a heck of a lot faster than physical advice delivery simply because all the travelling downtime is taken out of the equation. In other words, it is a damned sight more efficient from a commercial perspective.
The reality is that a professional process of providing advice works whether the client is in the same room as you or not. The process doesn’t become compromised because you are not holding their hand across the table. All that really is at risk is the possibility of not being able to establish the right sort of relationship that works for each party.
Engaging with clients on-line, and providing advice electronically, works well with many who seek genuine professional objectivity whilst wanting to maintain a high level of control. It is convenient from a time management perspective, and arguably delivers enhanced audit records and evidence of the engagement.
This is an opportunity to deliver better advice, in a more efficient manner, to more clients than you could otherwise squeeze into your diary normally.
My advice: grab the opportunity and embrace the change.