The Main Event: Should Your Practice Go Digital or Stay Traditional?

Two Heavyweight MDRT Members Weigh-in

by P.E. Kelley

Mr. Kelley is Managing Editor of LIFE&Health Advisor. Connect with him by e-mail:

The financial services industry was founded on building client relationship and making time to meet with clients face-to-face. However, with technology taking center stage in recent years, more advisors are exploring how they can make new-age tools work for their business. So what’s the most fruitful practice? Staying rooted in face-to-face meetings, or embracing the digital age?

Two Million Dollar Round Table (MDRT) members step into the ring to duke it in the prize fight over which method – traditional or digital – reigns supreme. In one corner, we have Brian Greenberg who relies solely on digital tools to conduct business with his clients across the U.S. Once a traditional life insurance salesman, Greenberg would meet clients face-to-face and bring a briefcase full of materials to appointments. However, his practice now operates solely on a new-age tool – the Internet. By building specialty websites, Greenberg was able to increase efficiency and expand his market to all 50 U.S. states. His clients may never meet or speak to him, but they can learn about life insurance, compare quotes, and fill out an application 24/7 at their convenience.

Facing off against Greenberg is 29-year MDRT Member Randy Scritchfield, CFP, LUTCF, who prides himself on staying traditional. He credits his success over the years to his strong relationship building and client contact methods. Scritchfield cultivates a relationship-based practice by harmonizing his clients’ experience through face-to-face meetings and touch-base calls. He understands it is important to not merely have a transactional-based relationship, but foster and accelerate growth in conventional ways such as taking time to make personal client phone calls.

So who will be victorious? Call your bets, the bell is about to sound as Greenberg and Scritchfield go toe-to-toe.

Round One – Greenberg Takes a Swing by Evolving with Technology

Since the beginning, technology has played an increasingly important role in the evolution of the financial services industry. Today when people want something, the first place they go is online to research it. Or if someone wants to purchase a product, they order it online and it’s there the next day. Even if a person needs a qualified professional, they can search the web for reviews to find one. I saw a trend in people turning to the Internet to find information faster and easier than ever before, and I knew insurance consumers were no different. I wanted to find a way to empower them to conduct research and save huge amounts without ever seeing a sales agent. By developing two independent insurance broker websites, and, I was able to simplify the underwriting process and get policies issued quicker in a very private manner.

For example, customers are able to select their desired price and start filling out the application right then. The form is then shipped to the customer, who is contacted by a paramedical examiner to set up an appointment. I also offer a product on my site that is a no medical exam term life insurance policy, which is a new product to the insurance industry. The cost for getting a no medical exam policy issued within 24 hours or almost immediately does cost more. However, I find I get almost half of my business applying for no medical exam policies because it’s more convenient. In fact, I’ve already sold more than 650 insurance policies this way. That means people are willing to pay more for the convenience of not having to do all the paperwork.

In addition to increasing efficiency, I have increased my referrals exponentially. You are going to find websites are the new business card of the industry, getting consumers in touch with the qualified professionals they need. For example, by the time a person reviews your website and the sections about your services, goals and satisfied customer testimonials – they are most likely going to be ready to do business with you. An established website has potential to build trust between you and a customer without ever having to meet each other.

Utilizing online tools in financial planning has brought many advantages, but not without bringing challenges. Using technology in the financial industry requires both the client and the advisor to be tech-savvy. This means an advisor needs to self-educate, and invest time and money into building and maintaining a well-functioning website. For a professionally-developed website, an agent can expect to invest anywhere from $1,500 to $10,000. Adding a simple quote engine can be implemented for as little as $500 per year, but a full custom built quoting engine can cost upwards of $100,000. Marketing on search engines for a national agent can be very expensive and difficult. Pay per click keywords in the insurance industry can reach upwards of $30.00 per click. A local agent can also market locally on Google Plus and Yelp for free by creating a profile, but building up reviews and a positive online presence takes time. Advisors must also find ways to stand out against one another online to draw in prospects.

You are going to find websites are the new business card of the industry, getting consumers in touch with the qualified professionals they need

There is also a degree of accountability that comes with employing technology tools. The web has the potential to open up advisors to more public scrutiny, as unhappy customers can post negative reviews. Advisors must always remember to present themselves and their services accurately so they only generate positive online buzz that will help their business.

In any dealings with client affairs, I uphold myself to MDRT’s strict code of ethics, which focuses on providing top-notch client service. It’s imperative to make full disclosures so clients can make informed decisions whether in-person, online or over the phone. While there is always going to be a demand for face-to-face interaction, there is an opportunity to sell simple products online to complement growth of a business.

Round Two – Scritchfield Counter Punches by Staying Modern with Tradition

There is no denying the financial industry has been engulfed by digital communication tools that range from websites, social networks and video conferencing programs. These resources have blurred the focus of client-advisor relationships, as people are relying too heavily on these platforms to communicate. Strategic planning can be complex and requires detailed coordination that’s best to accomplish through in-person interaction.

For the past 30 years, my firm’s goal has been to have face-to-face meetings as often as possible and conduct weekly touch bases to stay top-of-mind. Our marketing slogan is “Retirement Planning with a Personal Touch” and is what we try to embody on a daily basis. We find using traditional approaches to be a positive marketing tool for attraction and retention, which has brought us years of success.
One of the most effective methods of communication I do is requesting my clients to stop in to the office if something needs to be signed or completed. If I were to do this via email, I would lose the opportunity to learn about the client’s family, health issues or any other anecdotes that may help the planning process when we meet in-person. Many times this leads to breakthrough thinking, which brings additional opportunities or potential referrals.

Face-to-face meetings also let clients and prospects develop trust in ways that are not always possible with other forms of communication. Sitting in front of clients provides more clues than words themselves, which in return can help increase your odds of gaining their business. Facial expressions, hand gestures and voice tone all play an important role in assessing emotions, but are lost when using just technology. For example, you can see skepticism in a person’s posture or the way they cross their arms. Visually seeing this gives you an opportunity to address their uncertainty and help them feel confident with your planning.

There are many advantages of being present at meetings, but there are occasions where traditional methods bring obstacles. Limiting the amount of technology I use has potential for missed opportunities. Younger generations are more tech-savvy and prefer to stay connected by tablets and smartphones, which limits the amount of new prospects that prefer digital communication. Conducting business in-person can also be time-consuming and inconvenient for some clients. For example, a portion of the Boomer generation spends time at second homes and vacation retreats, which makes it harder to stay physically in-touch.

It’s important not to fall into the trap of using just technology to communicate but to facilitate client-advisor relationships. Nothing can compete or capture the impact of meeting in-person, yet there is no doubt technology can be efficient. You must determine how to integrate face-to-face meetings and new technology to best serve your business.

Final Bell Signals – Does Your Practice Benefit from Going Digital or Staying Traditional?

Both Greenberg and Scritchfield had knockout arguments with their strategies for using modern or traditional approaches to serve their clients, so this fight is declared a draw. While the financial industry has historically thrived on seminars, newsletters and face-to-face meetings, there has been a shift in the way individuals conduct their personal affairs. People relish for real-time results at the tips of their fingers – a trend the financial industry is seeing much more of today. While technology can be used for convenience and immediacy, it’s important for advisors not to become enveloped exclusively in the high-tech world – it’s crucial to stay high-touch as well. Adapting to what clients want is essential, and Greenberg and Scritchfield showed it takes a combination of using both technology and tradition to deliver the best service to clients.