We live in an increasingly convenience-driven age. Need Thai food delivered? A car to the airport? Heck, do you want to buy a car and have it delivered? Just whip out your phone, punch in some information, and it’ll be taken care of—and quickly at that. You don’t even have to leave your couch.
Modern technology has changed the way we procure just about everything, and the pandemic has accelerated the process. Around the world, consumers’ minds are rapidly being reset to expect convenience and expedience. We can have what we want, when we want it, on our terms. And that raises an urgent business question for financial advisors: What do advisors need to do so that their service fits with consumers’ expectations of convenience?
It’s critically important for advisors to think through how they’ll make themselves available to clients in this new era. As convenience becomes table stakes, the old relationship model of having set meetings quarterly, annually and semi-annually is quickly become obsolete. Advisors must decide how they will overcome obstacles to convenience and be available when and how clients need them.
Over the past year and a half, the Herbers & Company team has heard more and more that the end clients of advisors in our network are opting out of comprehensive annual or semiannual meetings. Instead, they are seeking a different kind of access: Information broken into smaller chunks and delivered on-demand.
For example, a mass-affluent client might call or text their advisor from a car dealership, facing sales pressure and seeking feedback about whether to pull the trigger and buy the vehicle, sleep on it or walk away. While this is not the kind of scenario advisors will love—it’s all about reacting rather than planning, after all—it’s the unavoidable reality that lies ahead.
If your clients are in the high-net-worth category, they might be seeking a video chat to understand how concerned they should be about the tax legislation taking shape in Washington, D.C. Tomorrow would be great — end of the week at latest. Ultra-high net worth clients are increasingly looking at private investments. If you’re their advisor, you might need to drop everything to weigh in on a time-sensitive private-equity placement opportunity. And, having caught the convenience bug, those wealthy clients might ask whether you’re able to pay their bills and offer other family office services.
Adapting nimbly to clients’ new standards of convenience is critical to advisors’ future growth. While many firms have been slow to adapt, those that have pivoted quickly have already started to see stronger growth in client referrals.
As the culture of convenience expands, the responsiveness and flexibility of advisor firms’ client experience models will become a bigger and bigger factor in attracting new clients and referrals. In addition, we expect many of firms’ existing clients to base their continuing loyalty on the convenience factor. If your client is made to wait for advice, and their friend with a rival firm doesn’t, don’t be surprised if the client decides to make a change.
The good news is that readily available, easily implemented technology will enable firms to quickly facilitate a convenience-driven client experience. The most important of these technologies is one that’s been around for years—digital calendaring. Calendaring apps, which businesses have widely adopted in the past several years, allow clients to schedule their own meetings on your calendar, thereby eliminating the back and forth of trying to nail down immediate times.
Digital calendaring checks the convenience box. But they also go beyond it. Clients become stressed when they need to discuss a certain issue but are unsure when, or if, the conversation will take place. If that meeting is on your respective calendars, most of the client’s stress tends to dissolve. They know an answer is on the way.
The key to making digital calendaring work is for the advisor to leave room for clients to schedule meetings. If the client goes to their advisor’s calendar and sees that the earliest availability is three weeks from now, that’s a problem. And that leads us to another piece of software that is critical to creating a client-convenience model: time tracking software.
I have never been a fan of requirements that advisors track their time. The arrangement undermines team members’ autonomy and internal motivation and can lead to pointless micromanagement. But time-tracking software is critically important in the era of consumer convenience because it allows firms to ensure that adequate availability is built into their advisors’ workweeks.
If your advisors are so busy that they can’t accommodate impromptu scheduling by their clients, you can’t expect your firm to thrive in the age of convenience. Your business might not fall behind in a year or two, but over time, your service will increasingly lag your clients’ expectations. And that’s not a good place to be from a growth perspective.
Your advisors shouldn’t be working at 100% capacity during any given week. Time tracking software should be used to track availability levels within two-week periods, which can then be compared to identify trends. If your advisors aren’t spending between 20% and 25% of their time reacting to incoming client issues and requests, you need to build more space into your system and their compacity.
Once calendaring and time tracking are mastered, firms should look at communication technologies. The communications technologies most people think of first are telephone, text and perhaps chat software. In the financial services arena though, the most useful communication technologies are those that allow clients to see their data while meeting with their advisor. Picture a mass-affluent client meeting in which a visual representation of their client’s cashflow is the centerpiece. For high-net-worth clients, investment portfolio data might be front and center, and for the wealthiest clients, tax projections. The software solutions behind the visual data need to be dynamic so that client information is updated daily.
Financial planning data is the most important data to be able to convey digitally during meetings to keep clients focused on their planning in a reactive world. Frankly it’s surprising to us how many financial advisor firms don’t have financial planning software that is client facing. It’s true that client-facing planning software can be expensive. While that’s laudable from a cost savings standpoint, growth-minded firms will eventually need their own software so that they can customize the programs to match their own client experience model.
As firms head into the 2022 budgeting season, I recommend that they take seriously the global shift to a consumer culture of convenience. They should give careful thought to investing in calendar enhancements, time tracking software and client-facing, more robust financial planning software.
Technology, the pandemic and capitalist innovation have combined to rapidly alter consumers’ expectations about how and when they can obtain the things they want and need. Convenience is quickly evolving into an essential element of any successful business. This toothpaste isn’t going back in the tube when the pandemic is over. Financial advisor firms that are out in front of the trend toward consumer convenience will be the big winners in the years to come.
Angela Herbers is the founder and CEO of Herbers & Co, a consultancy firm for financial advisors.