Updated 03 September 2020
Financial advice has traditionally involved seeing an adviser face-to-face. But Covid-19 has forced both advisers and their clients to rethink. Kay Mechial of Black Lion Wealth reveal’s his firm’s innovative response, replacing ‘face to face’ with ‘person to person’.
It’s been months now, and the UK is wondering, ‘How much longer?’ For many, lockdown has been a strain; for others, a time to recharge; but for everyone, a big lifestyle change. Here at Black Lion Wealth in Brighton, we’ve seen just how big. At a time when financial concerns couldn’t be more pressing, people have been told they can’t meet with us. Every one of our clients get a regular review, but at this time a third of them (33%) have been clamouring to see us sooner than scheduled.
Like everyone else, we’ve swapped meeting in person for Zoom calls (as an adviser, I feel bound to say that other brands of video conferencing are available). But where some might view the crisis as simply a problem to get through, we’ve seen it as a nudge towards developing new forms of delivering financial advice.
All in all, the nation has adapted pretty well to lockdown. Things like personal training sessions, cooking lessons and even school exams have all taken place remotely, and of course people have been able to shop and bank online for years. Now industries that have never considered remote services (because they haven’t needed to) are finding new ways to reach their customers – and in some cases, those methods are so effective that they may be worth retaining once the pandemic has passed.
Undoubtedly, the most popular way to receive and give financial advice has been face to face, via a meeting in a client’s home or the adviser’s office. There is nothing quite like ‘putting a face to a name’. Meeting someone in person also allows for clearer communication, such as body language cues and better eye contact. But needs must, so like everyone we turned to technology, doing our utmost to get as close to the face-to-face experience as we could.
In the process, we found ourselves asking: could this lockdown change the way financial advice is delivered in future? Could there be some advantages, such as having more meetings with greater regularity? Is this crisis, in fact, an opportunity for advisers and clients alike?
Our experience of this period has given us much food for thought. Without denying the obvious benefits of being in the room with your financial adviser, Black Lion has found that online financial advice has plenty going for it too. For instance:
The average time we spend travelling to a client is 47 minutes per meeting. If a client is coming to us, they’ll travel for an average 36 minutes. With our head office located in Brighton, it can sometimes be harder for people to find parking, and the traffic in town can be pretty intense too.
When we surveyed 100 of our clients, 73% were happy to receive financial advice remotely, and of these 34% favoured a blended approach, consisting mainly of remote advice with an element of face to face where this was called for. The majority of respondents felt comfortable with seeing an adviser once, to get to know them, and then taking remote advice as long as the adviser remained the same.
As you might expect, our availability of appointments shot up when we started to offer remote advice, and clients too were much more available. Setting up a Zoom call takes only a moment, whereas before a client might have had to block out half a day to see us. This in turn means that that clients were more willing to commit extra time to the video call, so we were able to make more progress in meeting their needs.
An unexpected side effect of our remote approach has been a rise in the number of clients who consult us alongside their spouse or partner. Whereas before it might have been very difficult to find a time when both members of a couple could see their adviser, with remote advice it’s been much easier to find an appointment to suit everyone. Generally, advice received as a couple can be much more beneficial, as partners can discuss their separate concerns and priorities in the adviser’s presence, and the advice can be tailored to suit them both.
The biggest perceived barrier to providing remote advice is the fear of losing ‘the personal touch’. There’s no question that face-to-face advice has some advantages over remote advice – the most important being the ease of building trust. But it would be silly to pretend that the reverse isn’t also true: remote advice can sometimes be preferred. As we found, if given the choice many of our current clients would like a blend of the two. We’ve found that what matters is not so much seeing someone in person, but simply knowing that person. That’s what creates the personal touch, and that’s what remote advice needs to emulate.
So how might financial advice evolve, post-lockdown? Speaking for ourselves, at Black Lion Wealth we’ll be broadening the options for our existing and new clients. We will still be offering face-to-face advice for those who want it, but we’re also setting up a remote desk for clients based elsewhere in the country. We aim to develop (subject to compliance) our own software that not only allows for remote person-to-person advice, but enables clients to sign documents and letters of authority on a shared screen.
We firmly believe that financial advice will increasingly involve the use of such technology. At the same time, we know we must still live by what has worked in the past, while looking ahead to the future – and shaping that future in the work we do today.
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