Advisors are changing how they interact with clients due to pandemic

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Ivory Johnson was one of the many financial advisors who were forced to pivot quickly when the pandemic hit the U.S. more than a year ago.

In a business that is often relationship-driven, Covid largely put a halt to in-person meetings for advisors, including Johnson. However, the shift wasn’t necessarily a bad thing.

“I learned how to use Zoom, as did my clients, and once everyone got comfortable with that, it was beneficial,” said Johnson, a certified financial planner and founder of Delancey Wealth Management in Washington.

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“I don’t know that my clients will want to come back to the office for meetings,” Johnson said.

His experience is not an anomaly, new research suggests.

In the last year or so, just 12% of advisors have had in-person meetings with clients, according to a study from SmartAsset. Instead, video-call use has surged for advisors, jumping to 48% from 2% before Covid. 

Preferred communication method

Method Before pandemic During pandemic Expectations for post-pandemic
In-person meetings 56% 12% 41%
Phone call 28% 32% 16%
Video call 2% 48% 34%
Email 13% 7% 8%
Text 1% 1% 1%
Online messaging platform 0% 1% 0%

And, the trend likely isn’t disappearing, with about a third (34%) of surveyed advisors expecting video calls to be their preferred way to reach clients once the pandemic ends.

Additionally,  while 41% of advisors expect to use in-person meetings post-pandemic, that’s down from 56% before Covid. Phone calls also may take a hit: just 16% of survey respondents said they’ll prefer phone calls after the pandemic — that’s down from 32% during the pandemic and 28% before it.

“Like a lot of advisors, I have clients who are not local and it’s nice to meet with them face to face on Zoom,” Johnson said.

Meeting in-person with clients

Location Before Covid During Covid
Office 81% 77%
Client’s home 13% 14%
Coffee shop 4% 4%
Restaurant 2% 0%
Outside (golfing, walking, etc). 0% 5%

Videoconferencing also helps give clients a sense of autonomy, he said.

“When you’re meeting with a financial advisor in a conference room, some people may feel a little trapped, and when you’re on Zoom in your own home, you have more control,” Johnson said.

He said there are still some aspects of client relations that are better handled in person — i.e., estate planning, which can be an emotional experience for people, or any other sensitive event experienced by a client or their family.

“If a client passes away, I’m not going to have a Zoom call with the family,” Johnson said. “I’m going to go to them.”

Meanwhile, roughly 2 in 5 advisors (41%) in the SmartAsset survey said they communicated more often with clients during the pandemic, with more than half of them (57%) saying they initiated communication and 37% saying both they and their clients have reached out more frequently.

Topics of concern from investors? The top two: stock market volatility (42%)  and political events (22%).

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