remote wealthtech advisors

6 Smart Strategies for Managing Remote Wealthtech Employees

“Too much of a good thing can be wonderful.”

— Mae West, American Actress

When something is working, you want to keep it going.  Especially when it’s also sharing great information and having a positive impact on your industry.  Doing it again is a no brainer.

This is why Cory Westphal, CEO of fintech firm MobileAssistant, scheduled a second CEO Roundtable webinar after the runaway success of the first.  (See 6 CEOs Share Tips for Company Survival During the COVID19 Crisis)

The same group of industry leaders all were happy to come together again for a second round of sharing best practices and lessons learned during the COVID-19 crisis. They were:

I live tweeted the event and gathered some of the best ideas for this brief summary.  Please remember to share this post on your social media networks!

Before you get too involved in reading, make sure to register for the third webinar here: CEO Roundtable 3.0 Registration

Scaling a Remote Workforce

Having spent almost a decade working in a top-down, bureaucracy-heavy Fortune 100 corporation, I know first hand that companies place too much emphasis on employee activity as a result.  What they should be focused on are outcomes, which Sofia so eloquently pointed out on the webinar.

According to Harvard Business Review:

Outcomes are the benefit your customers receive from your stuff. This starts with truly understanding your customers’ needs—their challenges, issues, constraints, priorities—by walking in their shoes and in their neighborhoods, businesses, and cultures.

We all know there are thousands of bosses who are now grudgingly realizing that almost all of their employees can work from home and not only maintain productivity, but sometimes increase it.

Sofia mentioned two strategies for helping firms manage outcomes:

  1. Objectives and Key Results (OKR) – First implemented in the 1970s by Intel co-founder Andy Grove, some called him the “Father of OKRs”. OKRs connect company, team, and personal goals with measurable results to encourage all team members to work together. A large part of what makes them successful is posting them publicly so everyone knows what’s expected of them as well as the rest of the company. Again, it’s to keep everyone moving in the same general direction.
  2. Key Performance Indicators (KPI) – These became a lot more popular in the 1990’s after Robert Kaplan and David Norton created the Balanced Scorecard to monitor performance that wasn’t just related to the financial progress of companies. KPIs are usually customized for a specific department or industry. Common financial KPIs include gross sales, net profit, Customer Lifetime Value (CLV), and  Customer Acquisition Cost (CAC). Customer-focused KPIs are Customer Satisfaction & Retention and Net Promoter Score (NPS).  Customer support metrics are hold time, dropped calls, time to resolution and number of support transfers per call. Whatever KPIs you use, they must be effectively communicated to all employees so that they understand how they’re being measured.

Warning: When people know they’re being measured, they’re going to do everything they can to optimize the results. Make sure you’re measuring the right things!

Analog versus Digital Communication

Last year we decided to using Slack for intra-company communications to reduce our reliance on email. A few weeks later, I made a joke that “we just replaced one inbox with 95 inboxes.”  We now had so many separate Slack channels that it was becoming a headache to try and remember what you were discussing and where and with whom.

Even without Slack, the number of different communication channels has multiplied over the years. In a single day, I can exchange messages on the following apps:

  • Facebook
  • Facebook Messenger
  • Google Docs
  • LinkedIn
  • Skype
  • Teamwork (our project management site)
  • Texting
  • Twitter
  • WhatsApp

I can imagine that it would become overwhelming for some people.  And there are dozens of other apps that I don’t use daily, but maybe weekly or less.  Microsoft Teams, Google Hangouts, Kik, and Telegram, for example.

Texting is still the most frequently used form of phone communication among Americans under age 50. Even for seniors, who use cellphones and email relatively infrequently, their cellphone use still ties with their use of landline phones.

WhatsApp was the second most downloaded app last month with FB Messenger coming in at #5.  This is across both Android and iPhone users, which is pretty must everyone.  I’m not counting Zoom as a messaging app even though it has a chat feature. Messaging apps are always on and you can exchange messages any time of the day or night. You have to be inside a Zoom meeting to chat that way, so I consider that just a feature of a video conference tool.

Remote Work as Long-Term Reality

While the COVID-19 pandemic arrived swiftly into our lives, the changes it has made— not to mention the effects of those changes— will likely last much longer than anyone can predict. And what will the process of returning back to normal look like? How can companies help employees to feel comfortable and safe not only during this crisis, but in the transition time after it?

These comments from Clarke really made me see the crisis in a new light and how it will change the way we work in the near future.  According to Clarke, Orion Advisor Tech will keep their remote work policy in place even after the government lifts their stay at home orders.  The reason is to keep employees safe as well as ease the anxiety that some might have about going back to crowded office spaces.

McLaughlin echoed this plan by confirming that Redtail Technologies will also allow employees to continue to work from home for the near future and maybe indefinitely.  He noted that his firm has seen no drop in employee productivity since everyone moved home and in some cases, productivity actually increased. This has changed his thinking about future hiring.

The End of the Overpriced Office

Are we seeing the beginning of the end of the expensive office?

In Brian Tracy’s best-selling book, The Psychology of Selling“, he recommends upgrading your office space to help create an impression of value with prospects. People are influenced by the suggestive elements around them. By controlling your internal environment, you can look — at least on the outside — like you’re one of the best people in your field.

But what happens when no one can come to your office? All that money spent on mahogany paneling, Turkish steel conference table and ARTIS DÉCOR High Back Executive Office Chairs made with Upholstered Genuine Italian Leather.

Sofia pointed out how many advisors might have splurged on expensive office and furnishings to impress clients. And it probably worked, to some extent. How much of your sales is related to your office furniture?

Advisors must rethink this part of their sales strategy and come up with new ideas for selling remotely, Sofia warned.  How can they deliver a similarly powerful sales pitch and impress their prospects that they are both qualified and trustworthy on a Zoom call?

Snappy Kraken has always been a virtual company with no offices at all, so Sofia knows a thing or two about selling remotely.

The Power of Suggestion is an important part of the sales process, as Tracy wrote, but other aspects such as the way you dress for a video call and your delivery and presentation are now much more important when meeting face-to-face is impossible.

Stay Vigilant!

While every company that was capable switched to a fully remote model of work, many IT teams were not prepared to support this, Clarke pointed out. Many employees were forced to work with compromised or unprotected laptops for accessing corporate networks. Hackers now have more free time and their targets are distracted and often unprepared. 

Even before the crisis, most security professionals In a recent believed that remote workers were not secure.  It’s even worse now that millions more formerly office-bound white collar staff are in long-term WFH mode.

A few tips:

  1. Accessing sensitive data through unsafe home Wi-Fi networks – Have employees call their cable provider to upgrade their modem to a newer model with increased firewall capabilities.  If you are looking for better, but inexpensive security, try Firewalla Red firewall.
  2. Using personal devices for work – Some firms have been stepping up and paying for laptops and other equipment needed to employees to work at home. McLaughlin confirmed that Redtail is doing this as well as covering cell phone and cable bills.
  3. Sensible, centrally managed security policies – This includes policies such as remote asset management with monitoring and a remote wipe facility.

There has also been a rise in COVID-19 related phishing scams as well as pranksters interrupting Zoom conference calls (called “zoom-bombing”).

Help Employees Stay Connected

Many companies have started initiatives to help employees overcome feelings of isolation and loneliness through different bonding activities done via video calls. These include virtual happy hours and team lunches as explained by Sofia.

Snappy Kraken’s staff gets together weekly to have lunch and watch TED Talks to keep everyone in a learning and positive mode, Sofia explained.

Their playlist can be found here.

McLaughlin shared that his firm has virtual Trivia Nights. Some companies organize this by breaking employees up into teams, who can communicate via separate chat rooms to discuss answers. It creates a fun environment where people from different parts of the organization can interact in a non-work atmosphere.

Be More Human to Beat the Robots

The coronavirus crisis is leveling the playing field between roboadvisors and humans according to AssetMap’s Holt.  Since advisors can not meet with clients and prospects face-to-face, they’re basically on par with digital-only advice firms.

Not true, retorted Riskalyze’s Hardwick. Humans have many advantages over roboadvisors, one of which is empathy, she explained.   Algorithms don’t consider the emotional side of interacting with humans.

At least not yet.

As industry guru Michael Kitces asked back in 2016, “What is the role of the human financial advisor in the future, if/when the computers become as smart as we are?”  He proposed that financial advisors will must migrate from knowledge workers into relationship workers.

The key distinction of being a relationship worker is that most humans don’t relate to and take in the information in the same way when it comes from a computer, Kitces stated.  Even though a computer might have all of the same data, it can’t deliver it with the empathy that a human can.

This is where advisors need to play to their strengths and create more touch points and more ways to interact with clients, I believe.  The current model of “less interaction is better” is over.  It’s time to start offering clients more to do on your website than just check their portfolios and download a PDF statement.

Create New Opportunities for Engagement

There are more software options available now for wealth management firms to offer additional methods for client engagement than ever before. One tool that Hardwick mentioned was Riskalyze Automated Check-ins, which is a very simple tool that allows firms to take the pulse of clients each month (or quarter).

Each Check-in consists of two questions: “How are you feeling about the markets?” and “How are you feeling about your financial future?”.

Orion Advisor Tech offers the ability to record market commentary videos with client-specific data overlays, so each client receives a unique and personalized video through the firm’s client portal.  This is perfect for advisors who aren’t naturally adept at marketing or creating their own content.

In addition, video generates better client engagement on every social media platform, so advisors should be looking to add it to their content calendars.

Make Advisors More Effective

During this crisis, we’ve seen that digital marketing and communication tools have never been more important to advisors.  Clients are worried and buffeted daily by rounds of bad news.  They need a trusted voice they can rely on to steady them in these times of turmoil.

Holt pushed wealthtech firms to continue their investments in tools that will help advisors be more effective in communicating their value to clients.

In the coming months, digital reach and digital marketing will be key. The ability to adapt face-to-face interactions into screen-to-screen will mean the difference between success and failure . First impressions will take place on a website rather than an office lobby. Marketing budgets that were previously spent on live events and conferences should be redistributed to creating a strong online presence, an investment which should see heavy returns as people spend more time online and make more choices based on online information and influence.

Invest in Your Team

According to Gallup polling, 87% of Millennials rate professional or career growth opportunities as important to them in a job. Giving employees the opportunity to access educational programs is a great way to support their well-being.

Asset Map is leading the way by offering $500 for employees to take any online educational program.  One area that is often neglected by training programs is soft skills.  These can include:

  • Leadership 
  • Negotiation
  • Communication
  • Critical Thinking
  • Problem Solving
  • Managing Conflict
  • Time Management
  • Building Confidence
  • Emotional Intelligence
  • Dealing with Difficult People

When businesses first embark on employee training, they tend to focus on hard skills that are essential for day to day operations and easy to define and measure. But while hard skills are an easy sell, the oft-neglected soft skills are essential for leading people, solving problems, earning customer trust, and closing deals—all key factors to business success.

Build Culture From Home

There’s a reason that house-arrest and solitary confinement are seen as punishments. Humans are social creatures and long stretches of isolation and solitude do not come easy to most of us.  Employers have a responsibility to put measures in place to support the mental well-being of their employees.

McLaughlin explained that Redtail has contracted with an innovative company called Donut (I’m not kidding) to facilitate one-on-one meetings with employees from different sections of the company that don’t normally interact.

It seems like it would be most useful for enterprises with 100+ employees or more.  I like that it is integrated with Slack so you just create a channel, invite people and Donut does the rest.  In person meetings were their main focus, but the software is perfectly capable of setting up remote meetings as well.

Donut is well-positioned to take advantage of the current work from home environment since they already had a focus on supporting remote teams. They have obviously done some serious thinking about this and came up with a number of other use cases for their app:

  • Mentoring
  • Job Shadowing
  • Intra-Company Training

All excellent reasons to try Donut.

Know Your Team

McLaughlin was full of terrific ideas about new apps to help companies improve their culture. Know Your Team provides management workshops, educational guides, icebreakers, social questions, and one-on-one meetings feature to help managers learn how to work with their teams remotely.

I took a look around the Know Your Team website and I was super impressed with what they put together! Claire Lew (the CEO) and her team have created a suite of tools that is well thought out and seems as though they would be extremely helpful to any company looking to encourage, track and improve .

One way to describe Know Your Team is as an online learning portal for managers. They have dozens of pre-defined templates and tracking tools for one-on-one interactions with direct reports including ice breakers, lists of important questions both work-related, culture-related and non-work that would be incredibly helpful for both first-time managers as well as experienced ones that want to improve their soft skillset.

The data and inputs for this system came from research done by Lew and her staff over the past six years across 15,000 managers world-wide. They figured out what the most best leaders did to be successful and codified the knowledge in the software.

An important part of their framework is a tracking and management application to assist managers to put their training into practice.  I like the design of the dashboards and portal that look intuitive and would be something I would want to use if I were a middle manager at a large firm.  They Knowledge Guides seem especially useful in today’s environment since they include topics such as building trust, handling one-on-one meetings and running remote teams.

Standardize Your Tools

Westphal pointed out a common flaw in the IT plan for many companies: not standardizing the technology stack for remote teams. Having a BYOD policy may make employees happier, but it will probably frustrate your IT staff and eventually your employees as well when they struggle with technical issues.

Driving the use of standard technology will improve service quality, scalability and overall satisfaction since there are fewer configurations to support. The cost of IT training goes down, the number of trouble tickets goes down and employe productivity goes up since their equipment and software availability will be higher.

A growing trend among RIAs is to outsource their IT support and infrastructure to a Managed Service Provider (MSP) who can bring deep technical expertise to businesses that may not otherwise be able to employ a dedicated IT staff.

Signing with an MSP should produce a more compatible, better-structured work environment for employees along with uniformity in infrastructure, equipment, and configurations.

An MSP should be able to:

  • Troubleshoot common problems quicker
  • Monitor for known issues
  • Reduce resolution time
  • Trigger updates to operating systems and software on a specific schedule
  • Provide rapid response in disaster recovery scenarios
  • Minimize costs (sometimes)
  • Suggest improvements and upgrades where needed

Small to medium businesses often rely heavily on technology in order to stay agile in a competitive marketplace. A standardized IT infrastructure helps to assure this agility by bringing all technology to the same level, allowing all employees to have the same tools at their disposal.

What’s That Behind You?

While some video conferencing apps provide the ability to display a virtual background while on video calls, not every software provider has this option and not every person has a powerful enough computer to support it. Also, some of them aren’t professional and/or distracting.

So how about just straightening up?

This is the least attractive option to most people who just don’t have time to clean up or aren’t inclined to do so. They’re rather cover it up.

Non-technical options include moving to another room for video conferencing. The kitchen, living room or even the deck could be better choices since they’re less likely to be cluttered.

Another easy solution is to just rotate your chair 180 degrees away from the mess. Unless, of course, you’re sitting in the middle of a giant mess all around you, then it won’t matter with way your camera is facing.

I was on a call with one of my staff and she was in an upstairs room with two giant skylights, which looked like spotlights shining down behind her and putting her face into dark shadows. She said there wasn’t anything she could do about covering them.  I suggested that she just face the other way and face the skylights instead of having them over her shoulder.

Wallah! Instantly 1,000% better picture.

But some of the video backgrounds are nice.  For those of you looking for more professional backgrounds, here’s a few shots of modern conference rooms that can really upgrade your virtual office space.

Remote Wealthtech Advisors

This second episode of the Wealthtech CEO Roundtable built on the first and provided tremendous value to the viewers from some of the most experienced leaders in the industry.  These are all firms that have demonstrated their ability to not only build and deploy innovative software solutions, but to build a robust company culture that encourages employees to want to work there. And once they’re working there to want to stay.

If you weren’t able to join this webinar, the replay is available here: CEO Roundtable 2.0: Learn Remote Working Principles and Tactics from Top Wealthtech CEOs

Kudos to the six CEOs who participated and I’m looking forward to v3.0 in the series which is shifting gears to be an Advisor Roundtable.  Don’t miss it!

Register here: CEO Roundtable 3.0 Registration

TBD

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