With millions of Americans working remotely from home due to the coronavirus pandemic, retirement plan advisers have replaced meetings with plan sponsors and participants that they would have held in person with videoconferencing.
At first, this was seen by many as a burden and a likely barrier to closer client connections, but now that remote advising has been the norm for several months, many in the industry think this is a trend that will continue, at least in part, after the COVID-19 crisis is resolved.
Doug Murray, senior vice president for strategic growth in Voya’s retirement business, says he believes that many plan sponsors will continue to agree to virtual meetings even after the virus is eradicated and people return to their offices. Fully remote relationships may not be likely, but rather there will be a blend of virtual and in-person services.
“When we do pivot back to something that is more ‘normal,’ I can see it as a blend,” Murray says. “Maybe an adviser who was meeting their plan sponsor clients four times a year in person will meet twice a year in person and twice via Zoom. Perhaps, rather than having five people travel to a sales presentation, three people will travel and two will dial in through Zoom.”
For their part, advisers are telling Voya that they have been happy to replace a heavy schedule of in-person meetings and travel with virtual sessions.
“I have heard from a number of consultants that they find these types of meetings can be efficient and extremely productive,” Murray says.
Rick Fuerman, head of defined contribution (DC) marketing at Hartford Funds, agrees with Murray.
“We believe virtual meetings and webinars will become more common, even when the virus is eradicated,” Fuerman says. “This certainly will be beneficial to advisers, because working virtually can mean you are working more flexibly and productively. This will remain a viable option for financial professionals, and it is likely that plan sponsors and participants will like having another means of meeting with their advisers.”
David Swallow, head of consultant relations at TIAA, agrees that, to a degree, virtual meetings are now more acceptable to sponsors. However, he is quick to add, the extent to which they are comfortable will vary by client.
“Some clients really value face-to-face meetings, but may be more amenable to a virtual environment,” he says.
As to whether the travel cost savings should be passed on to sponsors, Swallow says he does not think that is necessary.
“Even though advisers are conducting work virtually, the amount of work they do and their fiduciary responsibilities have not changed,” he says. “Despite the travel efficiencies, they are still dealing with the same risks.”