The surge in the delta variant of the coronavirus has forced financial advisers to reconsider some of their plans to return to the office.
Fortunately, many have learned over the past 18 months that they can run their business effectively and efficiently from home.
Although he works from home and does a few pivots, Ray Prospero, partner advisor at AdvicePeriod in Riverside, Calif., Says his job has remained the same.
âJust as more and more clients felt comfortable meeting in person, the recent delta wave continues to rise, forcing us to revert to virtual meetings,â he says.
Annual reviews by videoconference or phone have once again taken the place of traditional face-to-face meetings, Prospero adds. âI moved to another company just at the start of the COVID-19 lockdowns and I am thankful that my new company is embracing fintech and technology in general,â he says.
Indeed, advisers were already gravitating towards greater reliance on technology in the months and years leading up to the coronavirus pandemic. Customers also appear ready to accept more digital interaction with advisors.
According to a May survey commissioned by Hartford Funds, 64% of people with household income or total investable assets of $ 75,000 or more are comfortable discussing personal information in virtual meetings with finance professionals.
Matt Regan, president of Wealthcare in West Chester, Pa., Says the firm’s advisors continue to be flexible when it comes to meeting formats that put clients at ease.
âWe were pleasantly surprised by the amount of virtual meetings with clients that our advisors were organizing before the pandemic, and certainly the pace of these meetings has increased significantly,â he said.
Leveraging digital technologies during the COVID-19 pandemic
Regan says many advisors already have the tools they need to make working remotely easier. He recommends staying connected by using tools like Calendly to easily schedule meetings.
Technology can also help with marketing in an industry that has long relied on seminars or in-person dinners.
âUsing Zoom to do one to multiple presentations with clients on a variety of topics is a great extension of the technology, and posting original or curated content through social media like LinkedIn has become even more effective in a world where your customers are spending more time online, âRegan says.
Virtual appointments were already in use in her business before the pandemic, says Molly Ward, financial advisor at Equitable Advisors in Houston. His company’s technology stack includes join.me, Microsoft Teams, the Riskalyze risk assessment program, and Asset-Map and eMoney planning tools. His firm has also organized information webinars for new and existing clients.
Ward recommends developing a repeatable process for customer reviews and new customer meetings, using platforms such as SharePoint and Salesforce.
Even with a sophisticated approach to digital technologies, and despite the delta surge, Ward says customers are embracing the idea of ââmeeting in person while being masked.
âWe have a client who did not want to send a document, not for security reasons, but because he wanted to drive to our office and see people. We were also delighted with that because it is a great storyteller, âshe says. âCounselors thrive and get their energy from face-to-face meetings. Our clients feel like our family and friends, and we miss them when we don’t see them in person.
She adds that some clients have health issues that would make it risky to meet in person.
âWe are grateful that we can communicate with them online,â she says.
The hybrid model office
For many companies, the balance between working in person and working remotely remains in flux.
At her company, the advisers are back in the office, although some employees have staggered schedules, says Cassandra Kirby, partner and COO at Braun-Bostitch & Associates in Canonsburg, Pa.
âWe were able to fine-tune our systems, and working remotely doesn’t seem to have an impact on our efficiency,â she says. “For example, we have one employee who works remotely on Fridays and two others who work remotely on Thursdays.”
She adds that return-to-office policies will continue to be a work in progress as the past 18 months have taught the company how to pivot quickly.
For those who wish to work from home, the company has policies and procedures in place, as well as technology requirements. âThere was a certain percentage of employees who also worked from the office, and we appreciated that parts of the team got together in person,â he says.
The management team took local guidelines and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention into account when developing their policies. He solicited employee feedback and drafted an email for clients, which included a template policy they could use and update for their own businesses.
âWe don’t force vaccinations on our staff,â Bonner said. âWe follow local regulations regarding the wearing of masks in the office. “
As the science on COVID-19 has developed, so have corporate protocols, says Alyssa Weinberger, senior general manager and chief marketing officer at Lido Advisors in Los Angeles.
These protocols were developed with guidance from the CDC, as well as national and local health authorities.
The company demanded that all employees working in the office full-time or variable-time be fully immunized. Teleworkers who never come to the office are not required to be fully immunized. Weinberger says the policy has influenced some previously unvaccinated staff to get vaccinated.
Lido is demanding masks in the Los Angeles office, as mandated by local Los Angeles County public health officials.
“For the other offices of the firm, such mandates do not exist, so masks are optional in these places,” Weinberger said.
Consulting firms, like many other businesses trying to adapt to the ever-changing landscapes of health and regulation, recognize the need to remain flexible.
Open and clear communication is vital as the conditions surrounding the pandemic continue to evolve, says Jen Stein, director of customer engagement at Priebe Wealth in Maple Grove, Minnesota.
âWe strive to keep our clients up to date not only with what’s going on in the economy, but also in our office,â she says. “If any of our policies change, our customers will be the first to know.”