Empathy Seen as a Valuable Adviser Tool During Pandemic

Advisers who have actively reached out to clients say they have been able to maintain them.

During a webinar Friday sponsored by Allianz Life Insurance Co. of North America, “Conversations That Matter: Addressing Client Concerns, Hopes and Dreams During Uncertain Times,” speakers said it has been critical for advisers to reach out to clients throughout the pandemic.

Bob Veres, editor/publisher of Inside Information, said he expects markets to begin to behave irrationally and that it will be five years before the economy recovers.

Impact Communications Inc. surveyed 342 independent advisers on how they have adjusted during the pandemic, said Marie Swift, president and CEO of the firm.

As to how they have been growing their business during the pandemic, 42% said it has been through referrals, 20% by phone or email outreach and 6% via webinars. However, 30% said they have not been able to grow their business.

Asked how robust growth has been, 56% said merely nominal, and 30% said their business hasn’t grown but that they have been able to maintain their client base. Twelve percent they have actually experienced significant growth, and 1.5% said they will be ending the year at a loss.

Forty-two percent said clients at first were unsettled by COVID-19 and its economic effects but have adjusted, and 41% said their clients are confident about their services.

Eighty percent of advisers have increased the frequency of communication to clients, 77% have made it a point to reassure clients in a calm, confident tone, and 71% have expanded the conversation beyond investments.

Thirty-four percent have increased the frequency of communication to all clients, and 32% personally called or emailed their best clients.

As far as clients’ reactions are concerned, 87% of advisers say clients were grateful for their outreach and felt reassured. Ten percent even referred friends and family to their adviser.

Asked what clients have appreciated the most in the past six months, 56% of advisers said periodic personal calls and emails checking in on them, and 20% said easy access to reach them any time of day or night.

Fifty-seven percent of advisers attribute the success they have experienced since the onslaught of the coronavirus to having more meaningful conversations with clients.

Asked what content they have sent to clients, 70% said information about the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, 47% said the importance of showing empathy during stressful and uncertain times, and 49% said financial lessons from the Great Recession of 2008.

Right in line with these findings, Shannon Stone, client adviser, DHR Investment Counsel Ltd., said, “In the first weeks, we called every client to let them know we were there for them and could meet with them. We focused our message on the pandemic, portfolio allocation and staying the course.” Stone added that it is very important “to listen more intently to clients and take their feedback.”

Veres said it is important to also realize how much people appreciate just being asked how they are doing and for advisers to demonstrate to their clients that they care about them. “People’s jobs are disappearing,” Veres said. “People are being forced to retire. Small businesses are closing. You need to be the shelter in the storm.”

Swift added, “Focus on clients’ total well-being.”

Veres said it will be rough going for the next five years, and advisers and clients alike will face “unprecedented economic challenges. You need to respond to whatever comes and assure clients that you are on their side.”

Heather Kelly, senior vice president of advisory and strategic accounts, Allianz Life Insurance, said advisers will have to continue to be nimble and have “deeper, more meaningful conversations with clients that are empathetic. Work with clients to prepare for the unexpected. You need to actively listen to clients, since we are connecting remotely.”

For clients who are in the distribution phase, annuities might be an appealing solution, Kelly said.