AdvisorHub Culture Study Part 6: How Financial Advisors are Mastering the New Virtual Culture
Even in a post-pandemic world, financial advisors won’t be serving clients in the same ways they once did. Here’s how Edward Jones’ culture is supporting a new approach.
The emergence of Covid-19 last spring forced all financial advisors to change the way they do business. Virtual meetings, less frequent in the past, are the new norm. Improvements in technology allowed this transformation to quickly take shape after states across the U.S. began locking down.
The global pandemic accelerated technology adoption for both financial advisors and firms across the industry. But the process had been underway over the past two decades. The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 encouraged cutting-edge financial services firms, like other businesses, to come up with contingency plans to operate in the event that workers couldn’t get to their offices due to acts of terror, natural disasters or other unforeseen events.
While certainly an adjustment at first, as the pandemic wore on, financial advisors saw the efficiency virtual meetings offered their practices. Financial advisors were seeing the personal benefits of cutting down long commutes to work out of the office every business day. They also realized that many clients were all too happy to connect via video conferencing as opposed to driving to an office to meet in person.
According to a 2017 Investment News Advisor Technology Study – conducted three years before Covid-19 emerged – 64% of financial services firms were already using enterprise video conferencing software to communicate internally or with clients, and a third of firms were using video-chat software.
No doubt, in some capacity, the virtual office is here is to stay and brokerage firms may not be able to attract the most talented financial advisors unless they embrace a virtual-minded culture. Firms will be closely monitoring the preferences of clients, financial advisors and in-office administrative staff as the post-pandemic new norms are established.
In the new AdvisorHub culture study, sponsored by Edward Jones, the financial advisor respondents valued “the ability to serve clients seamlessly in a virtual capacity” very high relative to the most fundamental attributes such as autonomy to run your own practice and improving client experience. Female advisors, who often are the primary caretakers of children, tended to value the virtual workplace more than men.
Moreover, the importance of having virtual work capabilities didn’t vary much by firm type: according to the study, financial advisors with wirehouses valued working virtually as much as those with national and regional brokerage and even RIAs.
Edward Jones understands the near universal desire among financial advisors and clients to use technology to create a virtual complement to the face-to-face relationships that are a hallmark of the firm. A new firm survey showed that 95 percent of investors polled feel it’s important that their financial advisors use the latest technology and tools when advising them.
“When we can’t rely on face-to-face communication, financial advisors must lead the way in adapting to new technologies,” says David Tam, a San Diego-based financial advisor with Edward Jones. “Even before the pandemic, some of my clients preferred virtual meetings. I’d imagine [post-pandemic] some will stay virtual and others will be excited to come back to the branch office. It’s about understanding how our clients prefer to connect.’’
Last year, Edward Jones announced a $500 million, multi-year investment in its digital transformation and the roll-out of new financial advisor tools to work with existing and prospective clients.
Frank LaQuinta, the chief information officer with Edward Jones, says that after Covid-19 closed offices to clients across the country, the firm provided associates nationwide with access to new virtual business enablement technology. “We also made significant investments in additional social media resources to enable financial advisors to continue attracting clients when in-person contact was not possible,” he says.
LaQuinta says Edward Jones is helping branch teams deepen their client relationships with technology like Online Access and a new mobile app. The firm is also hosting a series of regular webinars to enhance client education and help financial advisors feel informed about topics like market volatility. With the right tools, financial advisors can use technology to build client relationships, even in a virtual environment.
For example, Alyssa Jennings, an Edward Jones financial advisor in Overland Park, Kansas, is a fan of a new tool called My Priorities, which offers an online quiz that helps financial advisors start conversations with a client or prospective client about what is most important to them. “It helps them feel heard and understood and keeps me in control of the planning process,” she adds.
Technology is also helping financial advisors connect with prospective clients. Jennings is a fan of Edward Jones Match, a web-based tool that recommends financial advisors who may be a good fit for a client based on the prospective client’s personal situation and financial advisor’s identified focus areas.
From social media to virtual meeting capabilities, varied digital offerings provide Edward Jones financial advisors with the tools they need to not only enhance their clients’ experience, but also grow their practices.
Tam appreciates the firm’s support in helping him build an identity on social media. “I participated in a firm training on LinkedIn and it changed my perspective on social media,” he says. “Today I use the platform to keep up with influential people in my network. An active profile keeps me top of mind and helps me build relationships with both existing clients and prospective clients.”
For firms looking to build a successful virtual culture, in the pandemic and beyond, they must keep the all-important client/financial advisor relationship squarely in focus.
Financial advisors, like Tam and Jennings, are benefiting today from a culture that embraces virtual client relationships and, importantly, provides tools that combine the personal touch of a financial advisor with cutting-edge technology.
The study broadly shows why culture is so important to financial advisors and proves that firms paying close attention will be well-positioned to succeed.
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