How Covid may have altered the advisor-client dynamic
by Matt Schulte, CFP®Mr. Schulte is Head of Financial Planning, eMoney Advisor
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The pandemic has exposed the vulnerabilities of many people’s finances and put a new spotlight on purpose. The disruption to day-to-day life forced people around the world to slow down, reevaluate, and prioritize their personal values. It was fitting in this environment to survey advisors and end-clients to better understand the changing dynamic in financial planning.
Motivations Behind Financial Advice and Choosing an Advisor
On the surface, the purpose of hiring professional financial planning assistance is simple—clients want to achieve financial stability and advisors have the skills and education necessary to show them how to attain it. The relationship feels transactional, but after digging a little deeper, it becomes apparent that the journey they are seeking towards financial wellness is much more personal than it may seem.
Clients still want their financial advisors to be well educated, trustworthy, and supportive, but they’re also looking for deeper connections and commonalities. Younger generations are putting new emphasis on offerings that might fall outside the traditional “financial” scope.
Millennials heavily prioritize personalization, including advice and methods that align with their unique values (85%), whether the advisor uses relevant technology and tools (83%), and whether they work with other people like them (80%). While about two-thirds of Gen X and of Baby Boomers find technology important and want to see a client base that they could relate to.
There is a real opportunity for advisors to engage clients in deeper ways and enjoy longer, more successful relationships, while at the same time, experiencing the fulfillment they deserve within their own career.
The Influence of Others on the Advisor Role
When asked what contributes to advisors’ career fulfillment, “what’s in it for me?” answers fell to the backburner. Although things like compensation and career growth are important, responses that focused on the impact and influence on those around them had the highest results. They are most fulfilled when helping people and of those polled, 88% said they are personally fulfilled in their role.
But there are large elements of the job preventing advisors from being completely satisfied. Regulations and compliance, administrative work, and a lack of time to focus on the more enjoyable aspects of the job were among the top factors keeping advisors from feeling fulfilled.
For financial advisors to feel satisfied with their career, they want to help others and they need connection. The good news is financial planning is a helping profession and clients are also looking for that same level of personal attention.
Evolving the Advisor-Client Relationship with Financial Wellness
Although clients are hiring a financial professional to grow, manage, and protect their wealth, they don’t want conversations to focus solely on the numbers as it’s often the story behind the numbers they are seeking more clarity around.
Our survey surfaced a trend where if a client experiences a disruptive event like job loss, they are more likely to view it as an opportunity because it can lead to options that can be more lucrative or allow for a better work-life balance. Because advisors are in a helping profession, they will likely be one of the first professionals clients reach out to. This leaves advisors well-positioned to help clients navigate the overall life impact of these types of events, not just the financial components.
Financial Wellness: A Positive State Of Being
At eMoney we define financial wellness as a positive state of being resulting from a healthy relationship with money and the impact it has on other aspects of life. About 90% of clients surveyed say they are receptive to financial wellness discussions with their advisor. But advisors in our survey underestimated the importance of these discussions. Only 61% of advisors say they’ve been successful in incorporating financial wellness into their practice.
A reason for this misalignment may be different understandings of financial wellness. Advisors, more than clients, feel that financial wellness is about goals and plans. Clients defined it more broadly, which isn’t surprising since they tend to consider how their financial state contributes to other areas of their lives, and vice versa. While meeting certain goals and investments was still a priority, clients put greater emphasis on maintaining a healthy relationship with money and having the financial resources to make their day-to-day lives better.
While the differences in their respective definitions might seem small, any misunderstanding in advice or education given could lead clients to become dissatisfied with their advisor. To avoid this, advisors should consider each client individually to evaluate what financial wellness means to them. If clients are looking for more than just help achieving money-related goals this offers the potential to open new revenue streams and deepen relationships with those clients.
Planning Technology to Connect More Authentically
Encouraging open, sometimes difficult, conversations can help advisors and clients realign financial wellness and personal values. By creating opportunities to get to know clients better, discuss what unique goals they have, and what they value outside their financial goals, advisors can deliver more personalized advice. Phone calls and emails are equally important to clients for connecting with advisors, while our research shows that Millennials prefer a financial planning platform or wellness app.
In the survey, clients stated the inability to view all their finances in one place and a lack of education as their biggest barriers to financial wellness. But advisors, especially those using planning technology with aggregation capabilities, have the resources and expertise to help their clients gain access to the information and support they’re after.
Clients believe technology helps advisors save time and deliver a consistent experience. They welcome the use of technology to create more one-on-one conversations with their advisor, who with technology can help them visualize their financial plans and stay accountable towards financial wellness.
As clients and professionals alike grow accustomed to technology, it will become less of a “bonus” and more of a requirement. Technology needs to be implemented in a balanced way, supporting the financial professional in building genuine connections that lead to purpose and fulfillment.
Successful Client Engagement Needs Firm Support
Firms that would like to grow into the future need to put financial wellness—not just financial security—at the forefront of their decisions. Clients want to achieve peace of mind financially, reach their financial goals, and receive investment help that has a positive impact on their quality of life—all things advisors are excited to deliver. As more Millennials and even younger generations start to work with financial professionals to grow and manage their wealth, firms need to ensure their teams have the understanding, resources, and tools to properly engage, advise, and educate their client base.
Firms that value technology but not authentic communication (and vice versa) are struggling and may continue to struggle as expectations change. To be successful going forward, firms need to prioritize both authentic communications with their clients and implement technology that can support them.
The right technology can be a win-win for both advisors and clients. Technology can provide a better client experience, facilitate stronger conversations, and make the job more enjoyable for advisors. It helps firms find and optimize that overlap in keeping both parties fulfilled.