In recent years, technological advances in remote communication have allowed all sorts of professionals to expand beyond having clients just in the towns and cities where they live and meeting those clients in just one location. Financial advisors have been taking advantage of that trend as well, as the internet and video and other collaborative meeting tools have increasingly made it feasible to serve clients across the country (or even around the world), start practices on a shoestring budget, or simply to keep clients when they relocate themselves (resulting in a more and more geographically diverse clientele over time). Still, financial advisors who adopted a fully virtual “location-independent” practice were in the minority… until this past March, when suddenly, those who were fortunate enough to have jobs that lent themselves to remote work, found themselves having to navigate the world of virtual work literally overnight, including financial advisors.
The transition wasn’t always smooth, and many advisors still lament what’s been lost by not being able to meet with clients in person. But the good news is that it turns out that there are some rather favorable aspects to meeting clients virtually, and engaging with professionals in a virtual environment is something that psychologists have been studying in their domain for many years now. In fact, a recent literature review in the Journal of Financial Planning suggests that virtual financial planning may be just as good (or perhaps even better) as advisors address their clients’ emotional concerns!
Specifically, the research shows that virtual client meetings create a lower barrier to entry for otherwise-nervous clients who want to meet, and provide more flexibility in how and when meetings happen, as they offer increased logistical convenience and reduce any stress around actually going to the meeting itself. And as it turns out, having the option to meet from a more comfortable and familiar (i.e., home) location may even have a therapeutic benefit in and of itself! Meanwhile, that same flexibility increases the advisor’s availability, which can be particularly valuable in times of need.
Beyond that, virtual financial planning can potentially help clients adhere to their plans as well. In a more ‘normal’ environment, where in-person meetings typically take an hour or so and happen only once or twice a year, it is very easy for tasks to fall through the proverbial cracks. Instead, shorter and more frequent virtual meetings can help both clients and advisors focus on a few of the most important tasks… and the supporting follow-through necessary to ensure they actually get done. This can be especially helpful for clients who are stressed about their finances, as might be more inclined to keep their virtual meeting and actually talk to their planner, instead of canceling or putting their meeting off.
That’s not to say that virtual meetings aren’t without their challenges, though, but the good news is that there are some simple strategies advisors can use to deal with those challenges effectively. At this point, it’s no mystery that “Zoom Fatigue” is a very real thing, as our brains simply aren’t wired to deal effectively in a (prolonged) virtual environment. Not only do they hinder our ability to read body language and receive subtle (but extremely important) nonverbal cues, but they also reduce the amount of feedback that participants provide, as it’s natural for our brains to zone out in such situations. To combat “Zoom Fatigue” and stay focused on the task at hand, advisors can try having only the video conferencing system open on their computer, shutting off notifications from their phones and other communication applications, avoid using a virtual background, keep microphone and cameras ‘on’, and use all the reduced distractions to focus themselves on being more active listeners.
Ultimately, the key point is that, although financial advisors have had to manage a plethora of changes in a post-pandemic world, the good news is that there are several benefits that clients (and advisors) can enjoy as a result, including offering lower barriers to entry and greater flexibility and convenience, as well as an increased likelihood that clients will adhere to their advisor’s recommendations. And while there are various challenges inherent in remote settings, there are a few easy-to-implement strategies that advisors can employ to not only harness the utility of virtual meetings, but in many cases, provide even better outcomes for clients!