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Reaching for the remote

Does financial advice need to be face to face?

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Ian Millward
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I recently tuned into a webcast that offered us an insight into the ‘future of advice’.

The general idea of these ‘master class’ style presentations is that we are invited to take a glimpse into the future by listening to the views of particularly knowledgeable or far-sighted industry leaders. This one was interesting because the theme was advisers’ ability to work with clients remotely in a post-Covid world.

The million-dollar question was, ‘could this be the beginnings of a long-term change?’

The very short answer, according to our luminaries was …No. Given we have been doing just that very successfully for nearly seven years that response should have surprised me but it didn’t. To be fair, some of the content was sensible and I would be the first to agree that a lot of communication is non-verbal.

But the view was not that it is harder to do, or that you need to learn new skills. It was clear that it might work for someone saving £50-100 a month but unthinkable for anyone investing £50,000 or more – since that would require a face to face adviser.

Which left me wondering, if they were right, how could we possibly be in business?

I often find our industry double speak humorous, so particularly enjoyed the newly hired development director of a 200-year stock broking firm explain:

‘there is quant and there is qual and there is ongoing within that’.

Before tellingly revealing that a face to face meeting was an opportunity:

‘to set out what value looks like and educate their clients along the way’.

I think I can translate that. I read it as an opportunity to make things sound terribly complicated so we can justify our fees and control a sales process. All our far-sighted leaders were really doing was reflecting their own learned behaviour from the last 20 or 30 years.

But they are also completely wrong. Any client reading this will know we typically enjoy exceptional relationships with our clients. Much closer and better than they have experienced with previous advisers. I always tell the guys that work here that it takes more skill not less to build that relationship remotely.

You have to ask better questions, listen to the answers, pick on responses and know when to ask more questions, when to gently challenge and when to leave it alone. It works because it is not faked, feigned or contrived. People are clever and they can generally tell the difference between someone acting in their interests or the adviser who is sizing them up like a piece of meat.

It works for us because it is an ethos that runs consistently through our business. Justin’s strong views in the press, our website, charging structure, openness, willingness to do hours of exploratory work done on trust and the relaxed and easy manner all creates an environment where people feel comfortable and that they can trust us.

Compare this to high and often opaque fees, sales targets, ‘quants and qual’ language and a one meeting then commit approach. It is no surprise to learn that you can’t sell that remotely!

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