Remote Work Can Benefit Clients and Advisors. But Is Your RIA Prepared?

The coronavirus offers silver linings.

(Bigstock photo)

(Bigstock photo)

Twitter, Amazon, JPMorgan Chase, and other large companies are asking employees to work from home to help stop the spread of the new coronavirus, also known as COVID-19. With close to 112,000 cases worldwide and about 4,000 deaths, the novel virus isn’t just wreaking havoc on the market; it’s also changing the way thousands of people work.

It’s a perfect opportunity to test remote work, which can offer benefits for investment advisors, their staff, and their clients.

“There’s been an organic creeping toward flexibility in the workplace, but there hasn’t been the motivation for organizations to do the work to really make it happen on a large scale,” says Cali Yost, workplace strategist and CEO of Flex+Strategy Group in Madison, N.J. “Now it’s a life or death situation; you have to become flexible if you want to stay open and keep people safe. This moment is an opportunity to experiment with new ways of working that can be a necessity now, but could possibly get you organized for future success beyond this moment.”

As it has become increasingly difficult to find time to meet in person, remote meetings make more sense for busy clients, says H. Adam Holt, CFP, founder and CEO of Asset-Map in Philadelphia. “Individuals who have decided to work with a professional are usually time committed to business or pleasure and are already managing relationships remotely,” he says. “Think of how grandparents and families FaceTime and Skype with each other or how executives run six or seven remote conference calls every day. People are already comfortable working and communicating this way.”

David O’Leary, CFA, founder of Toronto-based KindWealth, prefers virtual meetings because “you don’t have to cram all of your advice into a single in-person meeting,” he says. Instead, you and your clients can choose between a two-hour meeting, two one-hour meetings, or four half-hour meetings because neither of you is wasting time in transit. With fewer, shorter meetings that can be narrowly focused, rather than covering everything in one meeting, O’Leary says his clients are better able to absorb his advice and remain focused on financial planning throughout the year.

When Charles Thomas, CFP, and owner of Charlotte, N.C.-based Intrepid Eagle Finance, launched his virtual firm in 2019, he chose to work remotely to avoid office spaces expenses, have more flexibility to travel, and achieve better work-life balance. “Instead of going to the break room after a meeting, I build some Legos with my son,” Thomas says.

Flexible work options also make it easier to attract and keep good employees, as 96% of white-collar workers say they need workplace flexibility but only 47% have it, according to the Harvard Business Review. And some studies show that employees are more productive when they work remotely than in the office.

Working remotely doesn’t have to be an “all or nothing” scenario, Yost says. In most cases, a hybrid arrangement works best, with some tasks handled in person and others remotely. Think about the tasks that could be handled flexibly and those that need to be done in person, and create a hybrid model that works for you. That may mean using a shared office space so you can host some in-person client meetings and work from home on other days, or it may mean allowing some employees to work remotely while rotating in-office assignments.

Before leaving the office environment, it’s crucial to deploy an appropriate, secure technology setup. Look for a remote meeting platform that includes integrated screen sharing, call-in numbers, and tools that integrate with calendars and offer automated reminders, Holt says. You can reduce technology aggravation by using laptops with headsets for audio privacy and microphone clarity.

A wide variety of cloud-based tools are available to manage remote workers and workplaces. To facilitate remote meetings, tools like Zoom and Workday are popular. To communicate regularly with your team, consider cloud-based messaging software such as Slack. O’Leary recommends DocuSign to accept clients’ digital signatures and PreciseFP for client data and onboarding.

Maintaining security while working remotely is vital, so always use a virtual private network (VPN) when accessing client files. Also, require passwords for clients and staff to log into meetings or access documents. It’s a good idea to also use multi-factor authentication to ensure security.

If your clients are accustomed to traveling to your office for meetings, switching to remote, video-based meetings will represent a change in paradigm and could invite resistance. If the possibility of a contagious virus requires still doesn’t do the trick, focus on what’s in it for them.

“My advice is to position this as a benefit to clients instead of a loss,” Thomas says. “Folks I speak with are happy to do business without planning time in their schedule to drive somewhere.”

Holt recommends pointing out that remote meetings can happen more often and make it easier to coordinate calendars. “They also allow for spouses and other interested parties to participate, especially when at a physical distance, so more relevant parties can be part of the process,” he says. “Remote meetings are critical for human advisors to keep up with the tendency for on-demand experiences, which robo solutions provide already.”

As more clients expect such on-demand experiences, the coronavirus threat is “an opportunity to reset your business to be future-facing,” Yost says. Those who test new ways of working to manage through this crisis are likely to find positive changes that may become long-term solutions to better serve clients, provide more flexibility for employees, and be prepared for future crises. “Implementing flexibility into your workplace is a change that can really benefit you and your business and position you for how you’ll need to operate going forward,” Yost says.

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