Like many people, I like to take the end of the year to reflect on what’s happened over the past twelve months and consider what may be in store for the year ahead. That’s especially true now, after this challenging year. So much about the way we lead our lives and engage with each other changed. But the big question is: will those changes fade away once we’re past the pandemic or are some of them here to stay? I think it’s the latter. Maybe it’s because I’m a glass is half-full kind of person, but I think some of the lasting changes will be for the better.
One thing that became crystal clear this year is the importance of expert financial advice. While doctors, nurses, and grocery and restaurant employees have been the front-line essential workers providing us medical care and food, financial advisors proved to be in the next tier of essential workers. So many people experienced changes in their financial circumstances – everything from job losses and closed businesses to increased health care expenses. More people turned to advisors for help sorting it all out. That’s evident from a survey by The College for Financial Planning in which 71 percent of advisors reported they have more clients now than they did before COVID-19.
While financial advice is in greater demand, much about the way advice is delivered also changed this year. I do think many of those changes are here to stay and advisors will do well to continue embracing them even once we’re past the pandemic.
1. Let informality keep strengthening relationships.
Pre-COVID-19, advisors probably most often than met with clients in their offices, across a desk or table. This year, virtual meetings became the norm. Those glimpses inside one’s another homes – and the occasional interruptions by kids, extended family members, and even pets – probably opened up new lines of conversation and insights into clients’ needs that might not have come up in the past. While everyone may welcome the return to in-person interactions, it will be important to remember that planning meetings don’t have to be formal business conversations. Mixing relaxed, informal and more personal exchanges into the discussion benefits both the client and advisor.
2. Stay ahead of the digital curve.
With their entire business going virtual, many advisors had to rush to ensure their technological capabilities could handle the transition. It’s become a cliché to note that younger generations are the most comfortable with technology, but living through COVID-19 made everyone, at all ages, comfortable with having planning sessions digitally. There may still be moments in the future when advisors share recommendations with clients on paper and explain investment strategies with their legal pads, but the shift to digital engagements has been accelerated. Prosperity in this industry will depend on staying current with the constantly evolving technology that delivers and continually enhances the quality of those digital interactions.
3. Don’t just advise. Be a partner.
Today, people don’t simply wait for their advisors to bring a financial plan to them. They’re much more ready to bring ideas to their advisors. Maybe that stems from the growing interest in sustainable investing, which didn’t subside in the least during this challenging year. In fact, the Forum for Responsible and Sustainable Investing reported that the assets in sustainable funds has increased 42% over the past two years.
People want to incorporate their beliefs and values into their investments or they’re looking to make an impact on specific causes, like gender equity or better education.
For advisors, the relationship with clients is much less hierarchical relationship than it might have been in the past. The term “wealth manager” may even be outdated. It may be time for a more current and apt term that captures the partnership advisors have with their clients today.
4. Expand the definition of advice.
Advisors with good reason take pride in delivering sound investment recommendations. But with all these changes we’re talking about, clients are looking for more holistic solutions. Perhaps more so than ever, people have experienced major crises this year that demanded much more than finding the right investments. Whether it was a job loss, a change in job status, college plans or another unexpected financial burden, people have turned to advisors for help with major life challenges beyond the traditional description of investment advice . Being the advisor who calmly reassures clients and provides viable solutions cements relationships and delivers word-of-mouth recommendations that go far beyond historical norms.
When promoting their services, advisors shouldn’t be afraid to talk about more than their approach to building portfolios. Letting prospects know you take a holistic approach to meeting their life needs – and that you can engage with them, however, they prefer, both in-person and digitally — will go a long way toward setting your practice apart.
5. Don’t DIY.
The good news for advisors is that they don’t have to rely on DIY marketing. Just as advisors rail against DIY investors, there are firms that specialize in wealth management marketing. In whatever areas that might extend beyond a practice’s skill set – whether it’s “millennializing” your brand or upgrading your website or social media profile – advisors can get the help they need from experts who know the industry and can recommend professional and proven suggestions for brand awareness, lead gen and more.
An essential alignment
With the emphasis on essential work, and uncertain times, there is a bright future ahead for financial advisors who embrace the current environment. Absorbing the lessons of 2020 over the long term will ensure financial advisors remain essential workers in 2021 and far beyond.
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