Liz Booth examines how technology is changing the way advice is delivered
The Covid-19 pandemic saw everyone from school children to pensioners grasping the nettle of Zoom, Teams and other videoconferencing platforms.
But what is the next step? Has this shift become irreversible and what does it mean for the financial planning sector?
Ian McKenna, director at the Financial Technology Research Centre, is bullish about the new opportunities, believing the pandemic has resulted in a sea-change in attitudes towards the use of technology.
“It has moved from a very active debate to a reality,” he says. “I know of advisers who now pride themselves on never planning a face-to-face meeting again.”
It seems the switch is not scaring clients either, with Mr McKenna reporting a surge of interest from new clients who prefer to be able to interact with advisers whenever and wherever it suits them.
“Research shows that clients are most likely to contact their adviser during the commuting hours (whatever those are now) and also in the evenings and weekends. So, unless advisers are happy to man their offices out of hours, it seems technology is the way forward,” says Mr McKenna.
He points to the other advantages of using technology, such as saving time, reducing time spent in the car and hence helping the planet.
Mr McKenna believes we will see an ever-increasing use of technology across the board, from platforms to cashflow modelling.
His views are supported by advisers themselves. Carla Brown, newly crowned PFS Chartered Financial Planner of the Year and founder of Oakmere Wealth, is among those to have benefited from the overnight shift to video conferencing during the pandemic.
She explains: “We made some significant changes in the past two years, introducing a client portal in July 2020 that allowed our clients to interact directly with us online.”
The impact was immediate, she says, transforming the way the firm did business and attracting new business along the way.
There was a slight nervousness about how the clients would adopt the new system but that proved unfounded as they were quick to change and embrace the new way of working, according to Ms Brown.
“Our clients had to get used to Zoom and Teams very quickly at the start of the pandemic, and we found that even our older clients were happy to adapt and start using the new portal,” says Ms Brown.
Let the technology crunch the numbers and let the advisers continue to work empathically with their clients – no machine can replace that human touch
The company offered clients online tutorials to help them make the changes and offered extra support to any of those who might have been deemed vulnerable.
In fact, says Ms Brown, the portal has helped them to identify any vulnerabilities more quickly and allowed them to respond appropriately and in a faster time.
She explains: “Not only did it speed the process up for everyone but it has given us a clear audit trail, which provides us with another level of safety.”
She does not underplay the level of investment needed but says it has been repaid extremely quickly in terms of new and expanded business, as well as in terms of the environmental impact.
“You cannot overestimate the environmental issue,” says Ms Brown. “Our clients are increasingly asking us about responsible investing, so being able to show a reduction in our own carbon footprint is extremely important.”
More to come
Looking forward, the use of technology will not slow down, says Ms Brown. “This year we are planning a major refresh of our website – it is the right time to do that, now that we have made all of these other changes successfully.
“Part of that process will be to smooth the transition between the website and the portal, all of which should encourage more use of the portal,” she believes.
Changes within the offices are also making a difference, she says, with the company’s carbon footprint set to fall still further thanks to the use of more energy-efficient lighting, computers and even the installation of electric charging points for clients who do visit the office in their cars.
Finally, Ms Brown says she feels it is important for advisers to talk to one another. “We cannot operate in a silo,” she says, “we need to share information so that we can help one another on this journey.”
Mr McKenna agrees, pointing to an upcoming conference, hosted together with the PFS, which will encourage advisers to take the next steps (www.advisersoftware.com/eatt-2022-tickets).
He also points out that technology is constantly evolving and its important for advisers to keep up to date with what is happening.
“Advisers should not fear technology,” he concludes. “While technology might replace some roles, in terms of financial planning it is a perfect match. Let the technology crunch the numbers and let the advisers continue to work empathically with their clients – no machine can replace that human touch.”
Liz Booth is contributing editor of PFP