Your Business

Providing advice remotely

January 2017

You don't need to be face-to-face to have strong relationships with clients, writes Sylvia Pennington.

Are you still carrying out all your client contact face-to-face? If so, you may be missing opportunities to retain customers that are time poor, infirm or have moved away.

Low cost, user-friendly technology solutions have made online consultations a straightforward affair today. And more advisers are using them than you may think.

The trend looks likely to continue, as Gen Ys and Millennials begin entering the market for financial advice en masse, over the next decade.

Research by Telstra in 2015 suggested 76 per cent of the latter group’s financial engagements are mobile. Two thirds of Millennials use, or are actively considering, digital technology for activities including bill payments, investment and wealth management.

Meanwhile, 90 per cent of bankers expect innovations in the finance and technology sphere will have a significant impact on the way traditional financial services are delivered.

Adding value from afar

Smart Advice principal Peter Horsfield has been connecting with interstate clients via Skype since 2010, after a Sydney accounting firm his practice worked alongside expanded to Melbourne.

“As a way to cement the relationship between our practices, we offered to be present in meetings, via Skype, should their new clients have any financial-advice questions,” Horsfield says.

“On our part, it was a business decision to try to offer greater convenience to the client and to ensure there was clear communication and clarity of expectations between all parties. Client feedback identified this convenience, clarity and certainty as the most ‘value-adding’ aspect of the video meetings.”

Horsfield relocated his own practice to Cairns two years ago and has continued to offer video consultations to new and existing clients, both locally and interstate. Around 3 per cent of clients now choose online, rather than in-person, catch-ups.

“Nothing beats face-to-face – it’s our preferred mode of communication and is always offered to individuals first up – but video service is another line of communication. It can help deepen relationships – more so than emails and phone calls – as long as the quality and experience are exceptional.”

While video conferencing has been commonplace for many years at the big end of town, the past two years have seen smaller professional services firms adopt the practice, according to Peter Kantarelis, chief executive officer of small business information technology consultancy Lookup Solutions.

“The financial advisers I work with are all saying, ‘We want freedom to work from anywhere, we want to be able to keep seeing clients who’ve retired and made a lifestyle move’,” Kantarelis says.

Tools advisers use

  • Skype
  • Microsoft Cloud
  • Microsoft Office 365
  • video conferencing
  • video camera
  • conference phone

Nuts and bolts

Tools to connect successfully with remote clients are relatively cheap to acquire and many advisers have them at their fingertips already.

Kantarelis says a Microsoft ‘eco-system’, comprising the Microsoft Cloud, Office 365 and Skype, a high-spec laptop or tablet, and a reliable, high-speed internet connection are sufficient to deliver remote consultations – and can be acquired for under $5000.

“This platform provides value by enabling you to interact visually with the other party – you can share screens, go through forms or show them a presentation, as well as having the voice and visual interaction,” Kantarelis says.

Practices with several staff and space to spare may consider spending a little more – budget $5000 to $10,000 – to equip a boardroom or dedicated space with a permanent screen, a Logitec or Polycom conference phone and video camera.

Feeling like you don’t know how to get started or afraid of encountering technical glitches? Spending a few hundred dollars on advice and training may be sufficient to ensure you and your infrastructure are ready to roll, Kantarelis adds.

Never mind the medium, trust is the critical factor in any professional interaction, Horsfield points out: “As long as you have that high level of trust, the avenue of communication is of secondary importance.”