Online Financial Planning from a Virtual Financial Advisor's perspective

Derek Notman |

Consumers increasingly use online applications such as Skype, FaceTime or Zoom to discuss personal matters and connect with friends and family globally.

So, from where I stand, it truly is only a tiny little leap to imagine someone using these exact same tools to receive personalized online financial advice without leaving the comfort of their own home, a hotel room, or even their beach lounger for that matter!

That’s the beauty of technology, and that is why it makes complete and utter sense for the financial services industry to embrace it.

Due to all of us seeking convivence daily, in all aspects of our lives, this has now become a viable reality for many people around the world.  

The rapid advancement of digital technology is allowing financial advisors to be remote and face-to-face simultaneously.

The “Virtual Financial Advisor” retains tailored service from qualified advisors but replaces networks of branch offices with a central hub, from which advisors cover a dedicated set of clients via telephone, video conference and digital tools.

So, I’m here to share some of my opinions on the matter, from my perspective, as a financial advisor who has been active on both sides of the spectrum.

How has technology affected the role of a financial advisor?

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Technology has greatly improved my ability to deliver my services.  A lot of people have adopted technology in the last decade and have become more and more comfortable working with it for all aspects of their lives. It is only natural that they expect their financial advisor has robust technology tools to better communicate with and serve them. 

Embracing technology has drastically improved my efficiency as an advisor.  I would say it has “enhanced” my role as an advisor; using technology to improve all aspects of what I do and how I do it.

Some would say that technology is replacing the role of the advisor.  Anyone heard of a Robo-Advisor?  It has been my experience that technology is not replacing advisors but in fact is improving the way they do business.  The only way I see technology replacing advisors is when they don’t adapt with the times to embrace & incorporate into their business.

Does virtual financial planning affect interpersonal relationships with clients?

I have found that I am building very strong relationships with people even though I have never been in the same room as some of them. 

Through the use of video conferencing, screen sharing, video calling, phone calls, etc. I have been able to build strong and meaningful relationships with people across the United States.  I have even had some people say that they prefer virtual financial planning as it makes it easier for them to start working on their finances, they are more comfortable using technology than doing things in person. 

As long as I make it a point to be transparent and open about who I am as a person and advisor through mediums like my website and social media, people are able to get to “know me” before ever actually speaking with me. 

This way they can get comfortable with me and my style and then contact me when they are ready to chat.  It really all flows very naturally.

Is the cost involved still the same for both parties?

The cost has gone down for me which in turn means I have been able to pass on the savings to my clients in the form of lower prices for the services I offer them.

I was able to reduce how much I drive as well as not needing to have a large, physical office with multiple in-house staff.  The overhead for me as a business owner has gone down substantially, while my efficiency and time with clients has greatly increased.  This improves the quality of service and ultimately the quality of life for my clients and even me.  Rarely do I need to miss dinner with the family or an event for my son anymore.

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A seamless migration

Almost all of my current and new clients have embraced the online financial planning model. They understand and appreciate all the benefits of working this way. It saves them time as well. 

Instead of having to drive to meet me or having to set aside an evening for me to come to their house (this is the old model) we now can meet during the day when they have some downtime at work (over a lunch break), or at least from the comfort of their home when it is convenient to them. We tend to get more done in less time which is a benefit to us both. 

There are some clients who still prefer to meet in person which is not a problem. In fact, the clients that still prefer in-person meetings have less of them now since we have partially adopted the virtual model, but at the end of the day, they still prefer the in-person meetings on occasion and this is OK.  This still is a people business so there is nothing wrong with making in person meetings work within the new virtual framework.

In short, this migration has been seamless and easy!  It is such an easy story to tell client, they welcome it with open arms as it makes their life easier while still making sure they are working towards their financial goals.

The challenges of online financial planning

Regardless of the medium used for the client/advisor relationship, it has always been important that the client feels they can trust you and that the advisor is transparent with whom they are, how they work, what their prices, are, etc.  In fact, a number of  studies over the years have all concluded that trust is one of the most important factors for clients to work with a financial advisor, and continue to work with them.

I call this the Trust and Transparency Exchange. Without it, regardless of how we interact with our clients, a mutually beneficial relationship cannot exist. To deal with this challenge I have made it a point to be very transparent about who I am (professionally and personally), what I do and what my prices are on my website.

This way prospective clients can feel like they know me before ever speaking with me. Online financial planning is an art form because you have to tell your story without ever actually meeting someone face-to-face.

The other challenge that I'm faced with from time to time is that technology doesn’t always do what it is supposed to do! 

Sometimes a virtual meeting application or tool just isn’t working properly. I make it a point to have backup options for whatever virtual service I may be using so if option A isn’t working for some reason, we can switch to option B within minutes and get back to business.

The benefits of online financial planning  

It's less expensive. It can be pricey for an advisor to run a traditional brick & mortar business. Online financial planning through the virtual financial advisor model, if done correctly, will drastically reduce expenses for the advisor which can then be passed on to the clients. 

Another benefit is that more meetings happen. With the traditional model clients either have to drive to the advisor's office or the advisor has to drive to the client's house or business/place of work. This takes up a lot more time which means less time for the advisor to do what they are paid to do, which is, give advice. 

Clients also don’t particularly like having their advisor come over after a long day of work while they are cooking dinner and helping the kids with homework, etc. I would argue that online financial planning is also more efficient and of equal if not higher quality. The date we use to do our analysis is based upon the most up to date information available because we are able to securely link all of a client's accounts (financial life) into one dashboard that is updated daily. 

Simply put; put good in, get good out. The virtual model allows us to use better data from the start which in turn allows us to make better recommendations for the client.

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Online financial planning saves time

It truly does save loads of time!  No more driving all over town to meet with a client.  No more sifting through shoeboxes of old statements (although this can still happen from time to time).  No more cold calling, networking events, or the old “walk and talk” prospecting methods used for decades to try and drum up new clients. 

You don’t see a doctor driving all over town to meet with patients, do you? The doctor embraces technology and spends more time on patients than anything else, especially now with the advent of telehealth services.

Tips for anyone who is considering working with a virtual financial advisor

Do your due diligence just like you would in person. Vet them on their website, make sure they are giving you a reason to trust them and that they are transparent with everything. From who they are and what they do, right down to their prices and experience.  

Also, see if they list references, this is a great way to vet them, through speaking to people who have worked with them or are at least familiar with them.  Use services like FINRA BrokerCheck to see if they are who they say they are. This way, you can also see how they are licensed and if any complaints have ever been lodged against them. 

If, after all this, you feel like it would be a good fit, schedule a virtual meeting with the advisor to interview them. Get to know them.

At the end of the day if the client and advisor do not get along, then none of the other stuff will matter. You have to enjoy each other, share similar philosophies on life, money, etc. 

If you truly can get along, then the online financial planning model will be much easier to embrace.

 

The virtual financial advisor movement is fast upon us.  Online financial planning is the future and I am excited to see how it continues to evolve.

I hope you enjoyed this post and learned a few things along the way.

Thank you for reading!

Derek