If you run an advice firm, you will be only too well aware of the challenges posed by the various degrees of lockdown restrictions imposed over the course of this year. Juggling temporary office closures, enforced remote working, Zoom and Teams meetings, while reassuring clients about the impact volatile markets were having on their portfolios, is time-consuming.
UK-based consultancy the lang cat’s annual State of the Adviser Nation report, which collated the insight of 565 UK-based advice professionals, asked respondents for their views on the impact of the lockdown and providers’ responses to it. The results clearly show that managing existing relationships in line with Covid restrictions added an additional burden. Over 50% of respondents agree or strongly agree that the pandemic has increased client workload. However, the impact has been felt most when trying to onboard new clients.
Financial services as a sector is no stranger to regulatory and legislative change. But those come with an advance warning. The response to the pandemic had to be immediate. The need to switch to digital processes overnight shone a very bright and revealing light on just how ‘digital’ the sector actually is - platforms in particular.
It seems not all digital-first strategies are equal.
The State of the Adviser Nation report shows that over 1 in 5 advisers found their platform ‘struggled’ to cope as they implemented home-working solutions in place of call centres and digital solutions in place of post rooms. When asked whether their experience of working remotely has made them consider taking action to change their platform or product partner, 8% said they already had, 11% they definitely would and a further 19% they probably would.
There’s no such thing as ‘normal’ anymore.
The fantastic news about viable vaccines doesn’t bring with it an immediate resumption of ‘normal’ living and working practices. Nor does it look like even when the restrictions have been permanently lifted that there is an appetite to go back to how things were before. Nine out of 10 advice professionals say they plan to continue conducting online client meetings in the future, according to the State of the Adviser Nation report.
What should a true digital-first approach look like?
Digital solutions need to support two distinct functions: the ongoing management of the adviser-client relationship and business growth through new clients, even in lockdown.
For our part, we do that in the following ways. First of all, we own, run, manage and develop our own technology and we devote more than 50% of global headcount to technology development. That means we’re able to release enhancements every two weeks.
Enhancements such as digital acceptance for applications, which we view as an essential client service and which we introduced pre-lockdown. With our integrated technology and CRM, all you need is the client’s email address to start the onboarding process. The fact-find questionnaire and risk profile are emailed, followed by an investment recommendation. Your client receives their ‘paperwork’ via secure email quicker than it takes to arrange a first meeting, can digitally accept the advice, and from there it’s a secure message back to the platform for assets to be moved across seamlessly; though this is dependent on the ceding party being genuinely ‘digital-first’ and therefore embraces electronic re-registration as a member of TeX. This is key for supporting your business growth as our statistics for online applications that include digital acceptance show that after one month the client is 33% more likely to fund their new application (60% funded with paper applications vs 80% with digital). After 3 months, 95% of digital applications will have been funded, compared with 80% for paper.
Enhancements such as the launch of an AI and machine learning-enabled Insights function, which examines client behavioural patterns that indicate a need for additional advice or guidance. Originally intended to red-flag imminent account closures, feedback shows red-flagging provides a timely prompt for proactive engagement for vulnerable clients.
Enhancements such as an integrated, fully online query management system where items can be raised/tracked and chased in real-time. Accessed directly in the Adviser Portal when the client account is selected, it auto-populates all relevant client information. It provides an adviser view plus an adviser firm view to enable easier access and tracking for administrators.
And through our Investor Portal, your clients have 24/7 access to their portfolio on any smart device. By delivering detailed, tailored reporting with the most up-to-date portfolio information directly to the digital portal meaning meetings, whether in person or over video conferencing are less focused on portfolio updates and more on goal planning and strategy.
We must be clear that there are still some instances where signatures are required, such as on scanned documents, but at no point during the onboarding process do we ask for paper-based wet signatures.
Digital-first needs to be more than a slogan, it must be backed up by resource and action. Sadly, lockdown highlighted in our sector there’s still a way to go on the latter.