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Pete Matthew: The pros and cons of online advice

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Insurance agents have since gone the way of the dinosaur but even advisers and financial planners tend to be based in a local office serving a local clientele. If a client moves away, then we may continue to serve them, holding meetings when they revisit the area, or occasionally we may go and see them wherever they are.I think it is fair to say that advisers traditionally serve their local area. 

This is probably rooted in the old industrial branch insurance agencies. I used to trudge the South Wales valleys in the rain collecting premiums on a four-weekly schedule. My patch was my patch and that was that.

Over the last two years, the majority of my new clients have come from hundreds of miles away, largely due to my online efforts in video and podcasts. 

Year-to-date, new client enquiries from online sources have overtaken those from client referrals for the first time ever. 

This is clearly an important source for us and we need to make the most of it but can we really be effective serving clients at a distance?

The existence of decent broadband in most areas of the country means Skype, Google Hangouts and Apple FaceTime are now quite reliable. For the most part, dropped calls and jerky video are things of the past. 

While not quite as good as being face-to-face with a client or prospect, it is a better proxy than it has ever been before.

I have not changed my underlying process at all to cope with distance clients. I will still hold an initial chat to vet the client and see if they fit our ideal profile. 

If they do, the same three-step process we always use works just as well over the internet. 

I can share my screen when we are at the cash-flow modelling stage and anti-money laundering requirements are also easily fulfilled. 

The only thing we cannot do is be in the same room when they are signing forms but with Echosign and other technologies also maturing, wet signatures will soon be a thing of the past.

So the mechanics of the advice process work almost as well, in my experience, as being in the same room as the client. But there are downsides. 

Sometimes clients need a nudge from us to take the best course of action. 

Between getting agreement on a Skype call and them receiving the forms to complete, doubts can creep in and forms can stay unsigned for a while.

I definitely feel as if I don’t know the clients quite as well when I have only met them online as I do if we have met face-to-face. This is difficult to explain and a bit subjective but is real all the same. The relationship just feels more virtual somehow.

But this is overcome by the opportunity to service my ideal clients no matter where in the country they are. 

I am convinced that for those of us who want to adopt this way of working, the technology will improve further to make it an even better experience for us and our clients.

Pete Matthew is managing director at Jacksons Wealth Management 

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Comments

There are 4 comments at the moment, we would love to hear your opinion too.

  1. Samuel Lewis Mayes 17th June 2014 at 9:49 am

    Hi Pete – great article.

    I am of no doubt that online distance advice will be more and more frequent as the years go on.

    More convenient for the client and the adviser. A no brainer in my estimation…

    Of course it won’t be suited to everyone (client and advisers alike) but it represents another avenue to help clients meet their financial goals. Probably suited to an adviser with a younger client bank and/or who are more internet savvy?

    FaceTime = AdviceTime

    I should probably trademark that or summat…

    Sam

  2. Pete and Sam

    Whole-heartedly agree. All of the tools mentioned are exactly what are suited to be at hand via your client portal for the client and adviser to use. We are increasingly hearing requests from our clients to include such tools within Sammedia’s moneyinfo.

    It has greater impact when clients are looking at their own portfolio and other financial information in one place. Also secure messaging has been in demand and delivered accordingly so advisers can keep in touch on an ongoing basis between meetings and justify ongoing adviser charging without costing the earth to deliver.

  3. Agreed. There are a lot of positives in having an online relationship as it makes it easier and more efficient for everyone, which contributes to increased access and lower costs.

    I also agree that Skype et al are not the same as an actual face-to-face meeting and probably work better with clients that you already know rather than ones you are meeting for the first time. Frequently, particularly in complicated areas, the mouth can be saying one thing but the body language is saying something completely different, a fact that an adviser using Skype cannot easily pick up on.

    The question really is how to make the best use of these tools to improve and augment the service given rather than seeing them as a replacement for existing services.

  4. We run Alexander House on same basis and all of our advisors are trained to use Skype and Lync. I think that whether this works for first appts is in our mind rather than customers…I remember when advisors said they couldn’t do an online factfind, or that customers would never come to their office for advice etc this is just new that is all. I for one want advice on my pension late at night when I am finished work and I definitely don’t want someone visiting me to do it- so I firmly believe this is the way forward. 60 million concurrent Skype users everyday must tell us something. Add recordings and analytics to this and you have a really strong compliance and customer led proposition as well. See 4therecord website for suggestions on how you can really make this innovative.

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