Delivering Your Advice Digitally
Here's how you can easily extend a digital-first approach to client meetings, whether in person or virtually.
With the continuously increasing number of financial technology tools available on the market, advisors are now using more technology within their businesses than ever before. From day-to-day operations to rebalancing portfolios or creating financial plans, we're tethered to our computers and software platforms to get just about any job done. Yet one aspect of providing financial services seems to lag others when it comes to this digital-first approach: actually delivering advice to clients. Though we may generate portfolio analyses, performance reports, or financial plans with the help of various software platforms, it’s still fairly common for advisors to deliver these reports in a paper format.
This makes sense, given many tools that we use to create client-facing reports historically and still do generate reports in a PDF format, ready for printing in the 8.5"x11" standard we're all used to. Moreover, for in-person client meetings, we often feel as though we need printed reports and plans to review with clients, to make annotations or notes during said meetings, and/or to provide clients with something tangible that they can take home after a meeting.
Unfortunately, this practice has its limitations, not to mention inefficiencies. You might print 20-30 pages of a financial plan or other report in preparation for a client meeting, only to realize a change is needed, requiring you to reprint the entire document. Your meeting notes and annotations on the reports have to be transcribed back into your software platforms, or may be lost when your client takes the document. And anyone who has ever tried to walk a client through a paper report over the phone understands the difficulties of this approach.
Old habits die hard, and some clients (particularly those who aren't as comfortable working with computers) will always prefer this traditional method. However, for many if not most of our clients, extending the same digital-first approach to delivering advice can be far more efficient and help improve client understanding of our recommendations, whether in the office, remotely, or virtually.
In-Office Advice Though the temptation to resort to paper documents for in-person meetings in the office is strong, it can be easily overcome with a few simple tools. The first is a screen or projector with which to present or review any data needed for the meeting. A large computer monitor or flat screen TV is likely your best bet, depending on the size of the space and how far you and your clients will be seated from the screen. Connected to this screen can either be a computer with access to your network and client files, or a device that allows you to mirror the screen of another device (such as a laptop or tablet). Google Chromecast or Apple TV are excellent options, with little-to-no setup required after plugging them into your TV or monitor's HDMI port and connecting to your office network.
Once your conference or meeting room setup is complete, make sure everyone in the office is familiar with the ins and outs of using it to conduct meetings. Additionally, you can enable every device in the office to connect to your new presentation setup using simple software such as AirParrot or Reflector. The former allows any computer (Windows or Mac) to "cast" its screen and audio to a Chromecast, Airplay enabled device (such as Apple TV), or computer running Reflector, while Reflector allows any computer to receive and mirror the screen and audio of another device, all without any wired connections or complex setup. Instead of having to make sure the right documents are printed in advance or accessible on a different device, you can instead control the meeting content using the device directly in front of you (such as a laptop or tablet), highlighting important points or making digital notes along the way.
Potential Costs: TV, $300 Chromecast, $35 or Apple TV, $179 Airparrot, $12.99/device
Remote Advice Occasionally you may meet clients in-person at a location other than your primary office. Rather than resorting to paper, why not use a connected device that allows you to walk through recommendations and access additional client data on demand? Those looking for a simple, intuitive solution might opt for Apple's iPad Pro with cellular connectivity and a large screen that is ideal for presentations. If you'd prefer the ability to get a full day's work out of your device, Microsoft's Surface Pro is an excellent option, with the capacity to switch between a laptop and tablet experience, and a built-in kickstand for walking through a presentation. The latest version now also includes optional cellular connectivity so you aren't Wi-Fi-dependent. With access to client data stored in the cloud, there's no need to worry about printing the information you need, and you can leverage additional documents and resources with the click of a button in the meeting itself. For those using dynamic financial planning software such as RightCapital, eMoney, and others, you can guide clients through planning topics using one of these mobile devices, and even illustrate the effects of proposed plan changes in real time.
Potential Costs: iPad Pro 12.9" Wi-Fi+Cellular, $929 or Surface Pro w/Optional LTE, $999
Virtual Advice As you become more comfortable with using technology to drive in-person advice, the ability to conduct meetings and deliver advice virtually grows easier. Though it will always be easiest to establish a meaningful connection with clients and hold their attention in-person, you likely have clients in different states, time zones, and/or countries, who want and need to check in regularly but can't make it into the office or to another mutually convenient location. A conversation over the phone may suffice, but with the tools available today, this should be a last resort. Video conferencing and screen sharing services such as Zoom, Skype for Business, Join.me, Google Meet, and others, make adding an online meeting option to your calendar invites a breeze, with clients able to simply click a meeting link to join and enable a face-to-face video chat. With screen sharing capabilities, you can walk clients through specific reports or their financial plan or have clients share their screen so you can walk them through an online task such as accessing important tax documents from an account custodian. Further, with most leading financial planning and/or portfolio management software tools offering some form of a client portal, you can post electronic documents and reports to a client's vault securely, and teach them to log into the portal as their central hub to check in on their accounts, their financial plan, or to contact their advisor or service team.
Potential Costs: Most video conferencing solutions start with a free starter plan, with other optional features available for $10 to $30 per month.
With a digital-first approach extended to the actual delivery of your advice to clients, you'll be spending more of your time providing actionable and impactful recommendations to clients and less time printing reports or overloading clients with information that will ultimately end up in the recycling bin.
Ben Brown is a certified financial planner and an IRS-enrolled agent. He is the founder of Entelechy, a fee-only financial planning and investment management firm based in Bethesda, Maryland, serving clients in the Washington, D.C., area and nationally.
The author is a freelance contributor to Morningstar.com. The views expressed in this article may or may not reflect the views of Morningstar.