Face-to-face advice still holds a firm place in serving clients, despite an increasing demand for mobile and remote services in adviser practices.
Research from consolidator Fairstone from November shows there has been a 10 per cent decrease in the use of face-to-face financial advisers over the past seven years.
However, advisers speaking to Money Marketing say the comfort clients receive from personal interaction and establishing rapport in the relationship mean face-to-face advice will continue to hold a place in their service.
Page Russell financial planner Tim Page says that the face-to-face model, whether in or out of the office, is still a service clients are willing to pay for.
Page says: “More and more people are taking the video chat or technology-based option, and it’s very useful for when you want to have a quick general catch-up, but I still find the quality of conversations are better face to face.”
He adds: “It’s not an either-or thing. You can have quite a lot of the relationship online or remote, but most clients still need to just have that face-to-face quality chat about the big stuff.”
Many larger firms still employ mobile advisers to save on office costs, with their remote location also a positive in terms of engaging with new technologies.
Page says: “A surprising number of financial advisers still work out of their own home all the time. For these advisers, working at home and travelling to see clients, it really is the traditional route and many firms then just have a handful of regional hubs to offset costs.”
Informed Choice managing director Martin Bamford acknowledges there is a growing demand for remote advice. Aside from video calling, he says his firm could offer remote advice through email and telephone, and using split screen technology to share reports, files and documents online.
Bamford says: “I have a couple of clients I now mostly deal with remotely. We use Skype video calls for annual review meetings as it is the most efficient way of doing things.”
He says: “With those clients, I had already established a face-to-face relationship and had rapport with them. I’ve never had a client I’ve worked with solely remotely since day one, and I’m not convinced that actually works. Reading body language and being face on is really important to what an adviser does.”
Candid Financial Advice director Justin Modray says his firm works almost entirely remotely.
He says: “We tend to use telephone and email, always telephone to speak with a client, we never communicate entirely through messaging. Some come to the office, but otherwise we use Skype or FaceTime, depending on what they prefer.”
He adds: “We also use post, but not if we can avoid it. For any documents, forms or emails, they are loaded on to a secure part of the website. We work almost entirely remotely. If a client wants to come into the office and have a chat, they are more than welcome, but it’s probably only 5 to 10 per cent who want to meet face to face.”
Modray says: “Depending on providers or platforms, we can do scanned signatures through secure web links, or it’s scanning, printing and posting – which is sadly more clunky. We do use an online signature operation where we can.”
Financial & Technology Research Centre director Ian McKenna says there are benefits to digital-only advice. He says many successful advisers never meet with their clients, which is a business model that works for both parties.
McKenna says: “It’s really worth firms investigating technology options because there is evidence the remote model is working very well for people.
“Many advisers say clients want to meet face to face, but there’s also an increasing number of remote advisers and not only they, but their clients, who now really like that approach.”
When Money Marketing caught up with Money Honey Financial Planning managing director Jane Hodges last year, she said her vision seven years ago of no offices, cloud-based technology, electronic com-munication and total remote service was now working well for her clients.
She says: “I am often amazed at how advisers hide their head in the sand about what the future looks like. We even used to have virtual gin and tonic meetings on Friday evenings where anyone could join with a drink from the comfort of their lounge and we would natter away for an hour or so, in the same way others might go to the pub after work.”
A 2017 Deloitte survey on the future of automated financial advice in the UK says building scale and efficient technology is crucial for digital-only advisers to offset lower fees.
The report says: “Given the significant unsatisfied demand among select groups such as younger millennials, offering a financial planning tool could be a point of differentiation for providers and a means of gathering valuable consumer data and increasing customer loyalty. This would help providers who earn consumers’ trust to market to them in future years.”