By H. Adam Holt, CFP, ChFC and Derek N. H. Notman, CFP
One of the things that we’ve officially started examining in Rethink. -The Financial Advisor Podcast is contemplating many of the aspects of our profession. Our early conclusion is that many of our industry traditions need to be reevaluated.
The premise of Rethink was to challenge and then identify some ways that we can innovate existing processes in a legacy business that’s been delivering value for hundreds of years to people with means. Today it is finally impacting the mass population through advice delivery, financial planning, needs analysis, and tech-enabled experiences.
Probably one of the most established methods of delivering financial advice has been the physical interaction between a professional and a client. This has occurred typically in a bank or a board room, a conference room, or over the desk of a professional, and sometimes even the client’s kitchen table.
The typical images of paneled walls and rich fixtures have always been a staple in financial worlds because wealth, security and success were often the hallmarks of an environment that supported people making confident decisions around money.
While that opulence has waned over the years -as customers have become more interested in places that were welcoming and comfortable, financial services providers have also evolved their physical space and point of sale (or point of advice), physical environments.
There are always major catalysts in society that have been connected back to wholesale changes of industries. It helps that nearly everyone in the market for financial advice and their advisors now have the technical infrastructure and high-speed access to effectively use digital communication unlike ever before. And although there has been a trend towards moving away from the physical delivery location of an office or a corporate park, the COVID pandemic has accelerated the movement away from physical ties more than any single catalyst.
That’s not to say that remote delivery of financial advice, (that is delivering over a screen sharing application), hasn’t been prolific in the industry. In fact, over the last five years, there has been a significant increase in the use of Zoom and screen-sharing tools to deliver advice. Mostly because high net worth clients’ schedules were too hectic to get together with their professionals, or travel was not ideal or people were in different locations with their own busy travel and family schedules.
It required using these technologies to accommodate. Very seldom did an advisor really consider that they would have to give up their physical location. Remote working was always an auxiliary and the pandemic has changed this for thousands of professionals.
What a lot of financial providers have realized is that the capability of displaying on a screen and communicating through accessible communication devices using the resources and familiarity many consumers have now (high-speed internet, VOIP cameras and good two-way audio), has empowered advisors to consider whether the physical location is even required, let alone ideal.
This change has really inspired a lot of advisors, many of whose organizations have either endorsed or sponsored such types of virtual delivery and have recognized perhaps it’s time to make an infrastructure change.
Now, there have been lots of reasons why these changes have made sense. They include removing the commute to one’s office, paying for the infrastructure rent and utilities, keeping up the cleaning and the presence that’s required, the significant cost of furniture, maintenance, and frankly just sheer flexibility of being able to be in any location without diminishing the customer experience.
That’s really unheralded when you think about it because it’s very few industries that can simply pick up and move in a day. One can’t move a supermarket or a retail chain very easily, or a hospital or a physician’s practice with utilities and equipment. The professional services environment, which typically was connected to a physical location like a bank, the insurance company or the branch office, no longer is a requirement for this profession. It’s interesting to see that it took a pandemic for many people to recognize it.
One of the interesting things in terms of what has happened in the pandemic is to even see how typical physical location-based services have pivoted to remain in business and deliver their products and services in a new distributed way. One of the most revealing to us was restaurants.
Cooks in the Kitchen?
When you think of restaurants, they are typically tied to a physical location with a chef, branding and a menu that’s tied usually to a location with an address. Restaurants in Adam’s city of Philadelphia literally moved their seating to the streetside tables in order to achieve social distancing outside. Some of them closed up their physical presence and just used their kitchen to do a delivery service; and even some of them went so far as to recognize that their brand of food was so well desired, that they could actually put it into a food truck and drive it around to separate locations for which they became even more accessible.
This is what got us thinking. In theory, nothing is to stop a boutique financial advisor practice with a speciality niche from being literally virtual anywhere. This is the reference to our financial food truck, the capacity to take one’s infrastructure wherever they go and drive to any location and literally open up a store with minimal infrastructure.
Since customer experience is really driving financial advice more than anything, one’s digital experience, the journey that a client has, the speed of execution, the transparency of cost, the emotional intelligence of the advisor and their understanding of family’s needs, is establishing a deeper relationship that is less constrained to the physical and enabled to accel though the virtual and remote.
It’s time to rethink this too and consider what is the real value proposition that consumers are paying for. They’re not paying for marble and mahogany. They’re paying for meaningful progress with a guide that’s going to help them make the best decisions at the time.
And frankly, the best advisor for a household may be halfway around the country. Perhaps one day we will see walk-up financial advice out of a food truck on 4th and Main. If you see one, take a picture and share it.
How are you rethinking your practice?