In-Person Client Meetings Return as Pandemic Dims, Volatility Remains

A recent survey shows that advisers are doing more in-person meetings amid overall increased client touchpoints.

Edward Jones financial adviser Jesse Abercrombie said the COVID-19 pandemic, although it forced physical distance, actually drew him closer to his clients.

“The pandemic had so much to do with meeting people where they were at,” says Abercrombie, who works with individuals on retirement and financial planning out of his Plano, Texas-based office. “Everyone was affected by the pandemic, and at the end of the day we are all people, which is why across the industry and, I know at our firm, more frequent engagement became the norm.”

That engagement, of course, was happening mostly over video. But while the trend toward more frequent client touchpoints continues, Abercrombie says now the video touchpoints are often rotating between in-person touchpoints.

“You can’t replace human interaction,” Abercrombie says, recalling a recent lunch meeting with a client he had not seen since the onset of the pandemic. “That is what is important—having that interaction with a client, seeing their body language, having that laugh or human connection that is very hard to do over Zoom or through an electronic communication.”

That in-person shift, according to a recent Edwards Jones survey of 200 financial advisers, is happening for more than just Abercrombie. In-person meetings are now the most common way for financial advisers to communicate with clients (38%), as followed by email (24%), phone calls (23%) and virtual meetings (16%).

Let’s Talk

Market volatility, inflation and financial news such as recent bank failures have all been driving more client engagement with their finances, according to the Edward Jones report. Seventy-six percent of advisers say they have increased engagement due to the current economic conditions, with communication happening monthly (44%) or weekly (42%), followed by several times a month (10%) and quarterly (4%).

“Those are staggering statistics, because, as an industry, there used to be this sense of annual meetings, but now we are communicating much more,” Abercrombie says.

While advisers may be speaking more with clients, some surveying shows that may not mean great satisfaction with services. In a J.D. Power study released in April, the consumer intelligence firm saw a dip in investor satisfaction with full-service investment advisories in 2022, as compared to 2021.

When markets are down, as they were in 2022, adviser satisfaction can fall with it, the firm’s head of wealth solutions, Tom Rieman, said in a statement accompanying the research: “Adviser satisfaction continues to track overall market performance, and this points to a systemic problem in our industry: adviser value propositions grounded in investment performance.”

Only 11% of advisers offer personalized guidance on all financial and wealth management needs, according to the JD Power survey, which surveyed 6,168 investors from October 2022 through January 2023. In contrast, 42% of advisers deliver transactional advice, and 47% offer goals-based advice, the firm found.

From Tech to Touchpoint

Financial wellness providers, from advisories to recordkeepers, have been ramping up offerings that use digital touchpoints to open the door to one-on-one advice and counseling.

This April, Voya Financial Inc. launched a program to provide participants with online investment advice and fee-based managed accounts that provide personalized investment counsel. Earlier this year, SageView Advisory Group LLC launched its own advice offering, PersonalSAGE, designed to give participants a personal assessment of their finances and one-on-one access to financial coaches.

Despite those efforts, participant engagement in financial wellness offerings can lag the purported need. In a survey released Thursday by financial wellness provider BrightPlan, fewer than half of 1,400 workers surveyed use any of their company’s financial benefits, even though 95% said their company should offer them.

That lack of uptake is reportedly happening even as 85% of the same respondents said they have debt, and 48% say their debt load is more than they can manage.

“By not using their benefits, workers are missing out on important opportunities to improve their financial situation,” said Dan Schawbel, managing partner at Workplace Intelligence, which helped conduct the survey, in a statement. “For most of the financial benefits we asked about, we found that around one out of four employees have no idea if their company even offers them.”

Meanwhile, adviser Abercrombie says he has found success in getting clients’ focus by first identifying their overall values and goals, then basing meetings on the appropriate “themes.” That way, instead of just giving an “update” on their finances, they are having discussions about areas of interest and need.

“I think it’s important that, as advisers, we are connecting with clients around their values and goals,” Abercrombie says. “That can be multiple goals, like starting an emergency savings plan, creating an estate plan or managing a mortgage. … Through technology we can see those goals and see how they are progressing.”