Preserving client connections is vital—especially in the era of COVID-19—experts said during the last day of the 2020 PLANADVISER National Conference.
Even as “Zoom fatigue” sets in for many, the popularity of videoconferencing has taken off in the advising community, to the point where some clients are proposing more virtual meetings in the future. “Our quarterly meetings with clients have gone really well,” said Randall C. Long, founder and managing principal of SageView Advisory Group, during the virtual panel. “In fact, a lot of them have said that we can continue doing this and not have to come in for each quarterly meeting.”
Most people believed the hastened shift to remote work in mid-March would be short-lived, including David S. Hinderstein, president at Strategic Retirement Group, who had never worked from home and thoroughly enjoyed the environment his office provided. When stay-at-home orders stretched into April and May, Hinderstein said digital technology helped him, his colleagues and his clients acclimatize. “It took a couple of weeks to adapt, but OneDigital [the firm’s parent company] gives the technology to be efficient,” he said. “As a small firm, we’ve been able to do just fine.”
At Paychex Inc., a large payroll and human resources (HR) solutions organization with more than 16,000 employees, technology kept the firm up and running, especially when it came to the sales process. “We have 350 people calling on existing clients, and they’re used to a sales process,” explained Dan Campanelli, retirement adviser channel manager of retirement plan services at Paychex. “It took a big turn. … People who never planned on working from home weren’t necessarily prepared, but the tools and technology really did help them.”
Long emphasized the importance of investing in key tech features that have become popular in recent months. Familiarize yourself with ring lights, cameras and multiple videoconferencing platforms, such as GoToMeeting, Microsoft Teams and Zoom, to appease to clients. “We’re trying to become experts in that software so we can present efficiently,” he said. “Especially when meeting clients for the first time in a business development role.”
Hinderstein and Campanelli agreed, adding that financial advisers must have scale within their business, especially when it comes to digitizing platforms. “You need to have those services. That has been more apparent than ever, and as part of digital, it must be even bigger,” said Hinderstein. “People who don’t have the tools … they’re challenged.”
Of course, keeping in constant communication has proven especially effective for advisers. Advisers who continued to interact with clients throughout COVID-19’s hard-hitting months were more likely to be valued by their plan sponsor clients, Hinderstein said. “It’s a matter of staying close to your clients. People who hid in the end of March and May, they were viewed by their clients as just collecting a commission,” he continued.
In fact, the best sources of business right now aren’t coming through marketing—they’re through referrals. This is especially true for those advisers who specialize in specific sectors. “Referrals from existing clients, certified public accountants [CPAs] and attorneys is critical,” Long stressed. “We have a similar focus with health care, higher education and government plans. A lot of those industries have similar events, and that has really helped us facilitate referrals.”
While engagement and services continue to be esteemed among plan sponsor clients and participants, the importance of value in fees has also increased, especially in the time of COVID-19. If a client is willing to pay a higher price, the client is still looking at services to reflect that cost, said Campanelli. “Fees are critical, but there’s also got to be value,” he said. “Plan sponsors aren’t just jumping to save a couple of dollars; they need to see that value too.”
Clients are looking for personalized service, especially if they’re considering higher costs. If a plan sponsor or participant has an urgent question, adviser need to have more resources available than clients would get from just calling a telephone number. Have specific resources available that cater to plan sponsors and participants, Campanelli said. “They want to know that they don’t have to call in to find an answer, they want to know that they can talk to someone specifically. That’s going to be a direction that will increase,” he added.
At SageView Advisory Group, advisers are implementing video outreach for participants and are branding their communications on behalf of the employer.
Long closed out the panel by stating that if advisers listen to their clients and do right by them, then, in turn, this can lead to prosperity. “We’re doing the right thing,” he concluded, “and it turns out the right thing is profitable.”