financial advisor technology

CEO Roundtable: Leading Through Change in The Age of COVID19

“The measure of a country’s greatness is its ability to retain compassion in time of crisis.”

— Thurgood Marshall, US Supreme Court Justice

There are many companies trying to help people get through these troubled times.  Corey Westphal, CEO at MobileAssistant, had a terrific idea: gather some of the top fintech CEOs to share some of the experiences, lessons learned and best practices from the past month of dealing with the COVID-19 crisis. 

He reached out and received positive responses from five other CEOs, so he got them all together for a free webinar called CEO Roundtable: Leading Through Change, which took place last week. 

The six CEOs who participated were:

I live tweeted the event and gathered some of the best ideas in this brief summary.  UPDATE: Westphal has announced a follow-up webinar with the same cast that will be shown Thursday, April 9, 2020 at 2:30pm EST.  You can register here.

Adapting to Change

A Greek philosopher named Heraclitus is quoted as saying “change is the only constant in life.”  We’ve certainly experienced more change over the past month than at any time since WWII.  But now isn’t the time to throw out everything, Sofia warned, it’s the time to review what you’re doing and evaluate what’s working and what’s not.
financial advisor technology tools

The world has always been changing, albeit so slowly that it’s often too slow to see. Now we’ve witnessed a lifetime of change compressed into just the past few weeks.  How firms react could determine whether they’re still in business or not six months from now.

My consulting firm, Ezra Group, has helped many organizations improve their technology and operational efficiency. One of the first steps we take in these projects is to document key “as-is” processes and highlight the gaps when compared to best in class. Just the act of getting all the players into the same room (physically or virtually) and documenting a process always turns up steps, systems and interfaces that clients never knew existed. A lot of the most impactful improvements have come from these sessions.

Since everyone is stuck at home and should have more time available, scheduling one call a week to review a different process, such as new account onboarding, money movement, terminations, etc. would be a wise use of that resource.

If you’re searching for marketing ideas, take a look at this library of samples from Snappy Kraken.  There are lots of super helpful plans for online campaigns in many different categories.  (See The Velocity of Technology Change is Increasing: What Can Advisors Do To Keep Up?)

Try Turning Off Your Video

I grabbed a funny picture for this tweet.
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The CEO of a company turned herself into a potato on a video conference (Microsoft Teams) and couldn’t figure out how to turn it off.  Accidentally appearing on video as a vegetable (or fruit) isn’t the reason why you shouldn’t use video with clients, Holt said. It was to avoid distracting them from the important message you’re delivering about their future. (although some of these video effects can be pretty distracting)

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t use visual aids in remote client meetings, quite the contrary. Slides, charts and diagrams can be helpful in explaining complex concepts.  You’ll see what I mean if you take a look at some screenshots of Asset Map, the product Holt built for his own RIA that is now a standalone software company.  Their product provides a visual report that displays all of a household’s members, entities, assets, liabilities, cash-flows, and insurance. It provides advisors with a straight-forward way to quickly address gaps in a financial plan as well as uncover new opportunities to improve their clients’ financial condition.

Shift to a Casual Tone

This is advice that I’ve been telling my RIA clients for some time now.  Very few people want to read about the markets in normal times.  Almost nobody wants to hear the daily play-by-play now, since it’s mostly bad news.  Clients want to read about topics that they’re interested in, which could be related to work, hobbies or family life.financial advisor technology tools

Sofia was emphasizing that an advisor’s messaging should contain a bit of their personality since it was part of why the client signed up in the first place.  A more casual tone will help clients know more and strengthen the connection. We all need to do what we can to strengthen relationships while we’re all stuck at home.

Another tip for advisors to share their personality that Sofia offered was to post short, pre-recorded videos. he didn’t say how long they should be, but I would suggest no longer than five minutes. People have short attention spans.

On these videos, advisors can talk about almost anything (as long as it’s not the markets). This includes overviews of how the practice is dealing with the crisis, steps that have been taken to help employees, online resources that are available for clients, etc. They could even be exercise or general health tips. Whatever you think might be interesting. (See Tweet-to-Table: Why Building a Social Media Presence is Like Farming & Other Marketing Tips for Advisors)

We’re All Martians Now

I thought this was funny.  Probably because we all know exactly how he feels!

Another useful tip from Sofia was for advisors to increase the frequency of their communications to clients.  He recommended weekly emails. Some might think that’s too often, but a crisis changes how firms normally operate. If clients don’t want to read it, they will just click delete. But they will know their advisor is out there and are more likely to reach out if they see the name in their inbox.

Also, email is by far the best way to communicate with clients. According to a report released by Snappy Kraken called 2020 State of Digital Marketing (which you can download for free by following the link), 69% of all marketing campaign traffic came from email versus 31% from social media.

Leading By Example

Leading by example is nothing new to McLaughlin and Redtail. They have been trailblazers in building a solid company culture in wealth management. It was no surprise that Redtail stepped up to help their employees be better prepared to work from home by covering their equipment costs.

This isn’t an issue for my firm since it’s been 100% virtual since I launched it back in 2005. But that’s not the case for many other companies, especially RIAs, broker-dealers, asset managers and other wealth managers. There are lots of employees who are accustomed to going to the office every day and are not setup for extended work at home.

McLaughlin replied to this tweet to say that his firm is also covering employee costs for broadband internet and mobile phone services, both critical for WFH.  This is the kind of benefit that employees will remember and build loyalty and trust. Making the effort to do things that weren’t expected of you, but you did them anyway because you believed it was the right thing to do.

Building Culture Virtually

Company culture is never a one-size-fits-all solution, but there are always tips you can pickup from the best cultures, like Redtail, and adapt them to your company.  How to build or maintain your culture when no one is allowed to go to the office? Remote conference trivia night!

The company is also building out a completely online version of their Redtail University.  Any clients can sign up for training on how to be more efficient when using their CRM.

Take Advantage of Clients’ Free Time

Many clients are confused and scared by the events unfolding across the country.  But they also have more free time available since they’re not able to commute to work or travel. Why not take this opportunity to offer to help them with some of the financial tasks that they might have been neglecting?

We’re already seeing headlines like:

Advisors should reach out to their clients and offer to answer any questions they might have in these areas.  They will be surprised at how many clients respond because they’re also feeling as though now is a good opportunity to take care of these open items.

Tony Robbins

Hey Adam Holt! How do I score an invite to this webinar?

Another fantastic example of a company going above and beyond to reach out to their employees. Tony Robbins has helped millions of people improve their lives through his books, seminars and videos.

He also wrote a best selling book on personal finance called MONEY Master the Game: 7 Simple Steps to Financial Freedom.

Marketing Idea: Advisors could send out copies of the book to clients as a gift.

Free Financial Planning Software

Clarke announced that his firm is adding to the list of great companies stepping up during the crisis. Orion Advisor Technology is offering their financial planning software for free to all firms, even if they’re not currently and Orion client.  I think they were going to do this anyway but it’s still a terrific gesture during this time.

Orion purchased Advizr financial planning software last year, which I thought was a great acquisition for them.  Financial planning is becoming more important to advisors as they are feeling pressure on their business model from multiple directions. Whether it is passive investments, DIY or robo-advisors, there are many competitors looking to steal their clients.

Smart advisors have realized that they need to enhance their value proposition more visors are getting into planning, and there are more tools available for them to build plans. More advisors realize they need to improve their value added, beyond just investments. And financial planning is a terrific way to do that and get more of a holistic view of a client’s financial life.  (See Diamond in the Rough: Orion Finds a Financial Planning Gem in Advizr)

Leveraging Technology

Don’t hide.

This was Westphal’s advice for advisors who think that their clients don’t want to hear from them or that they might be overwhelmed with too much information. That’s wrong!  Clients want to hear from their advisor. They are looking for reliable sources of information.

Now is not the time to be timid.  This is the time to be proactive and reach out to your clients more than you used to and probably more frequently than you have in the past.

Leverage the technology you have to connect with clients whether it’s video conferencing, texting, email or social media.

Review Your Technology

It never seems to be the right time to take a hard look at your tech stack.

There’s always seems to be something more important on your plate.  Client meetings, compliance issues or end of quarter reporting all have higher priority and you never find the opening in your schedule to walk through the software that runs your business.

Earlier we mentioned how clients have more free time since they’re all stuck at home. But this also applies to advisors and their staff as well. Take a bit of that time (that’s not being spent watching Netflix) and read on some of the new technology that’s come out recently in AdvisorTech.  Or listen to a podcast about wealth management technology (like mine) and see if there is a new tool or even new features of your existing systems that you could take advantage of.

Be Proactive!


Action is the foundational key for all success.
― Pablo Picasso

Too many businesses take a reactive approach with their clients. They sit and wait to be contacted or asked a question instead of taking the initiative.

Don’t fall into this trap!  Holt warned that advisors shouldn’t wait for the annual review to share updates and other information with clients. Why not print out and update on their goals and send it out along with some recommendations? You may think now is the time to hide from clients until the market turns around, but that would be a mistake.

Your clients are out searching the internet for advice and answers to their questions. Get ahead of the curve and reach out to them first.

WFH Productivity

McLaughlin shared some surprising information that employees working remotely are at least as productive or even more productive than those sitting in a cubicle or open workspace.  He’s seriously considering hiring more remote employees going forward for Redtail, which will be a big change since all of their current employees are office-based.

These results are backed up by a Stanford study that showed an huge productivity boost among the telecommuters equivalent to a full day’s work per month. It turns out that remote employees have 50% lower attrition rates, they take shorter breaks, fewer sick days, and take less time off. Not to mention the reduced carbon emissions from fewer cars clogging up the morning commute.

On top of that, companies can save thousands per employee on rent by reducing the amount of office space required (savings is depending on location).

Structure is Needed

While the research shows remote employees can be more productive, that doesn’t mean it will be easy for every firm to replicate. Not every employee adjusts the same way to a virtual office environment.

Some tips for managing virtual employees include:

  1. Set Clear Expectations – Everyone has a different idea of what doing something “quickly” or “well” means. Whether showing examples of what you expect to be done, calendar sharing, etc., make sure you have clear expectations from those you work with online.
  2. Engage Regularly – Engage your remote workers on a daily basis through some kind of communication. Use multiple channels to communicate. Also, plan regularly scheduled face-to-face (virtual) meetings. These can be weekly, monthly, or annually, and could be combined with a training or coaching program. This regular interaction will help remote workers feel included in an important aspect of the organization.
  3. Coaching – Don’t forget that all employees require coaching. Virtual employees don’t necessarily need more or less, but they might need different types of coaching depending on their personality, role and responsibilities.

 

ICYMI: Webinar Recording

For those of you who weren’t able to attend, a recording of the webinar was made available for free (click here).

There was a tremendous amount of interest in this webinar. So much so that it was over-subscribed and I saw a lot of people posting online that they were locked out once the maximum attendee limit was reached. Westphal has announced a follow-up webinar with the same cast that will be broadcast Thursday, April 9, 2020 at 2:30pm EST.  You can register here.

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