Certain aspects of working remotely during the Covid-19 pandemic have proven their value for the long term, as Emma Ann Hughes explains
Since March, the profession has faced the challenge of delivering financial advice while face-to-face meetings were prohibited to slow the spread of coronavirus.
Here are five new approaches to work that were adopted by financial advisers during Covid-19 which firms say they intend to stick with in the years to come.
1)Technology changing advice delivery
During the last six months, the change in attitude of clients and advisers towards technology has been profound, notes Edward Grant, director of Technical Connection.
For example, Anna Sofat, associate director of Progeny, says her business is using digital portals to bring a client’s entire financial life and associated documentation together in one place, while electronic signatures have removed the need for wet signatures on many documents.
Richard Howells, managing director of Sesame, agrees technology is now driving the ‘new norms’ of how financial advice is delivered.
He says technology has given clients the opportunity to involve their families in some of the larger decisions they are making – whether that is tax advice, investment advice or later life lending.
As a result, Mr Howells says technology has sped up the progression of intergenerational advice and moved advisers to recognise that the size of their business is not calculated by the number of clients they have, but through the number of families they serve.
Linked to this move is a shift in the balance of what the adviser is doing when they engage with the customer digitally, according to Mr Howells.
Typically, he says, digital engagements are half the length of time that face-to-face ones were before the lockdown.
Mr Howells says: “In the pre-Covid-19 world, customers would pitch up at the adviser’s office with some information. The adviser, in completing the fact find, would spend a significant part of their time data gathering. We see this changing.
“To get the most from the shorter, more focused online sessions, advisers are being more demanding of customers in terms of the information they need to collect and in some cases send through prior to the call. Customers are responding as both they and the adviser want to focus the time on the Zoom call talking about their needs and their plans. The adviser is spending more time advising and less time on administration,” says Mr Howells.
2) Importance of planning
Covid-19 taught many that far from being a “document that will never apply to us”, a business continuity plan is essential, notes Chadney Bulgin’s David Thomas.
Mr Thomas, who is also chair of the Society of Mortgage Professionals, says a decent disaster recovery plan was “crucial” in ensuring firms could continue to advise clients during lockdown.
He says: “Within 48 hours we had to get everyone up and running from home, with the challenges of computer connectivity, telephony and – for many of us – no paper.”
Mr Thomas says he now has in place a routine to update his business continuity plan on at least an
3) Online learning
With regular regulatory updates and frequent announcements from HM Treasury during lockdown, it was more important than ever for financial advisers to be able to gain new knowledge, improve their skills and develop their personal qualities through continuing professional development.
One of the key changes Tenet made at the start of lockdown was to swiftly switch to a remote events and training programme for its financial advisers.
This approach to learning and development has proven so popular during lockdown that Caroline Bradley, group risk and regulatory director of Tenet, says it will change the way the Leeds-based financial adviser support group does things going forwards.
Ms Bradley says: “We’ve had such a positive response to our online method of running our professional development events that we’ll definitely be running a blend of both remote and physical events in
4) Adapting the workspace
Given the overheads in property letting and the proven capabilities of employees working from home during the Covid-19 lockdown, it is hardly surprising that many businesses are looking at reducing their office space and rent.
When thinking about their future office space, a survey by Flexioffices of more than 391 decision-makers and influencers on office space, found 57% of businesses are looking to downsize and encourage more of their people to work remotely.
Michael Dubicki, director of business development at Flexioffices, which has sourced office space for clients for more than 20 years, says: “Ultimately, Covid-19 has asked deeper questions of the office. What does the office actually do? Why do we have them? Do we need them? The pandemic has asked businesses to reconsider that office space and include the perspective of how it affects people – their productivity, their wellbeing, how they interact together and engage in positive experiences.”
5) Sustaining team spirit
Tom Baigrie, CEO of LifeSearch, says that while his business was easily able to switch to working from home en masse due to a long-established approach of allowing advisers to work at the time and in the place that suited them best, the life insurance brokerage has recognised it is vital to adapt team building and support programmes to ensure everyone still feels cared for personally.
He says: “Single parents, home schooling, living entirely alone all cause stress and drooping spirits. We decided the way to help was simply to really engage and try hard to get every one of our 483 ‘searchers to do the same.
“Our intranet and Yammer feed became super active – 200-plus posts a day, full of praise and concern and blogs about how people’s lives had changed, as well as vlogs from myself and many others keeping everyone in touch with our (fortunately very strong) progress.
“Our ‘listening ears’ team, trained in initial support for those with mental health issues, were alerted by team leaders to those struggling most, with care packages and, more importantly, listening conversations (one leading to an intervention from the Samaritans that stopped a catastrophe), improving many lives.”
Emma Ann Hughes is communications director of the PFS
Image credit | iStock
How Adam Owen, President of the PFS, has been working
- I have a home studio set up for holding online meetings and delivering training. The one thing that is difficult to manage is the amount of screen time now that there are no face-to-face meetings, so I have been switching between my office and my shed just for a change of scenery and to enjoy some natural light.
- I have replaced face-to-face exam classroom days with virtual classrooms. These work really well, with the feedback from delegates being that they have found the virtual classrooms to be a more focused way to study. The biggest negative is that the quality of the lunch at these virtual sessions is much lower than when we go to a venue!
- Using Zoom for meetings has opened up the opportunity to add various bolt-on apps that have really helped to make my processes more efficient. The best of these has been the Otter.ai integration, which produces a transcript of Zoom meetings. This means that I can focus on the person and the discussion rather than worrying about taking notes.
- Another great find has been VideoAsk. This is an app that allows you to hold asynchronous conversations via video. The ability to send a video message and receive a reply also by video has helped me to build new relationships with financial planners around the world, without having to worry about the challenge of being in different timezones.