By Tony Vidler
There are some great reasons to go digital in your advice process: not least of which is that it gets rid of the “personal embarrassment” factor many consumers have when talking about personal finance to other people, even professionals.
An 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.
The adviser then had second thoughts as to whether this was “acceptable” best practice advice to others, such as regulators and competitors. My answer was “absolutely – provide the process was robust and you’ve provided good personalised advice“.
One of the best clients I ever had was a couple that I have still never met.
My introduction to them was slightly different, but the process of providing advice was exactly the same as that outlined above. 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 risk management 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 been managed were:
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.
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. To the adviser who raised the question recently, I offered encouragement to pursue this method of engaging with clients who wished to work this way. Particularly given that only a few months ago I spent an engaging hour or so talking to an adviser who explained his business methodology from his busi9ness base in what might be considered “rural” New Zealand. He suggested that he probably had not met in person about one-third of his clients. He conducts a very large proportion of his business with younger professionals who are global travellers and relatively time poor. It works well for everyone for him to chat and handle interviews virtually – which they can increasingly do via mobile devices with clients.
The reality is that a professional process of providing advice works whether the client is in the room with you or not. The process doesn’t become compromised because you haven’t met the client personally. All that IS at risk is being able to establish the right sort of relationship that works for each party.
Engaging with clients on-line, and providing advice electronically, will work well with many who seek professional objectivity whilst wanting to maintain a high level of control.
It is absolutely professionally appropriate and very effective – if done professionally and on a “best practice” basis – and an increasing proportion of the clients out there wanting professional advice prefer it.
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