How to build better relationships in a virtual world

Executive summary:

  • Like other industries, wealth management has moved to a virtual world in the wake of the COVID pandemic
  • This trend means advisors need to find new ways to build deeper client relationships
  • Taking a page from online retailers may help elevate your service model

We are now a few years past the onset of the COVID pandemic, and we've had a chance to think about some of its changes in the wealth management business. Even if we wish certain things hadn't changed, we must acknowledge that they have – and adapt accordingly.

I am a fan of vinyl records (or those oversized, pointless CDs, as my friends call them). I have an extensive record collection (classic rock, jazz, country). Unfortunately, as the world has moved to digital music formats, I have had to roll with it. I share text messages of links to albums or new songs with friends and colleagues. This has helped identify shared passions and build relationships. Would I rather mail my colleagues a vinyl record? You might call me crazy, but the answer is yes! However, the reality is that it may not resonate with the recipient. The world is changing and I must as well.

When I talk to advisors, they often reflect on some of their best clients. These are the people they are most thrilled to work with. I typically ask a series of questions, including how long they have been working together and how the relationship came to be. In most instances, those top relationships started through a series of in-person meetings. That face-to-face contact accelerated the relationship-building and comfort with the potential partnership. Many established advisors also comment on how much they wish they could see more clients in person. However, many clients now prefer virtual meetings.

As much as we wish some of our clients would come and visit us in person, it will not happen in certain cases. So, what can we do? Well, if an online world is the new normal, let's explore ideas for deepening those client relationships virtually.

Intentional touchpoints

The traditional model of "every client gets a card on their birthday" is a good first step but isn't enough anymore. We are seeing advisors elevate the frequency and intentionality of touch points and outreach. E-mail works well, but outreach is most effective when the message is delivered physically.

Here are some ideas for "snail mail" touchpoints:

  • Birthday card
  • Holiday cards (Easter, Thanksgiving, Christmas, 4th of July, etc.)
  • Article or resource ("I know you like hiking, and I figured you might be interested in this article…")
  • Summer kit for children or grandchildren (yard games, sandcastle toys, squirt guns)
  • Back-to-school kit for children or grandchildren (notebooks, pens, crayons)
  • Anniversaries & milestones ("We have been working together for five years!")

These are examples that I have seen, but you can use your imagination. Putting all of this together can result in 6-8 intentional touchpoints in addition to your existing meeting schedule. This is a great way to deepen relationships and to be there without being there.

Enhanced discovery

We can all recall a time when we became engrossed in a face-to-face conversation, and the time flew by. We all enjoy conversations like this, which is typically a natural byproduct of being with someone. In a virtual world, we can't expect this to happen naturally. In this environment, it's important to bring structure and intentionality to the discovery conversation to make it as valuable as possible. This means you will need to have deeper conversations with clients in a way that is differentiated, genuine, and personal to them. We believe there has never been a better time for an enhanced discovery process than right now.

Enhanced client discovery is no longer just about learning quantitative information regarding a client's financial situation. Money is simply a means to an end; what we can do with the money makes it special. Money is measured in experiences. Getting to the why behind a client's preferences and desire for certain experiences is critical. An enhanced discovery process goes into all areas of a client's life, including their family and relationships, health and wellness, career and work, lifestyle and leisure, and community and giving, to truly understand how these components of their life intersect with their financial decisions. We believe these components comprise a holistic picture of a client's life, which we call the wealth wellness wheel. The deeper you can delve into these areas of a client's life, the closer your relationship will become, and the better positioned you will be to help them solve life's challenges.Building virtual relationships_01

Elevated service model

I believe what clients are accustomed to in their everyday lives, they will eventually demand in their financial lives. We have seen a massive increase in personalization everywhere: from curated streaming content to individualized "suggested" drinks at coffee shops. This has led to investors demanding personalization in their investment portfolios as well.

When it comes to client service, what do clients typically experience in the world? We can look to online retailers as an example.

In recent years, many online retailers have elevated their client experience. I recently ordered a bag of coffee from a large online retailer and received the following communications:

  1. An e-mail notifying me of my purchase and that they were working on fulfilling my order
  2. Notification that my order shipped
  3. A guide to other products that go well with my purchase
  4. Notification my product arrived
  5. An e-mail two days later asking if I was happy with my purchase or if I needed any customer support

Some might say this is overcommunication, but large online retailers have now made this level of service the standard for what individuals expect!

How does this translate into the wealth management business?

To enhance the service offered, some wealth management teams are starting to provide a schedule of what will be covered in upcoming meetings. They are also intentionally revisiting previously discussed topics to address any lingering questions. Creating a client roadmap or some kind of visual to collaborate with clients can be extremely helpful. So, if an advisor were to replicate the service model of the online retailer mentioned above, it might look something like:

  1. Notify clients of an upcoming meeting and what items will be covered
  2. At the end of that meeting, provide a preview of what will be covered at the next meeting
  3. A recap e-mail following your meeting of the items covered and any action items
  4. Begin the next meeting with a review of what you covered in the last session and ask if there are any questions from your previous discussion
  5. Proactively sharing the client roadmap and asking if anything is missing that they would like to add

Creating and implementing this process is a win-win. It elevates the client experience and saves advisors time by creating a streamlined process.

Elevating your client discovery process

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Your journey and goals

It's safe to assume that we will continue to conduct business virtually going forward. Although some people may still like hearing music on vinyl records, most music lovers enjoy the convenience of accessing songs digitally when and where they want. Those in the wealth management business must learn how to build deeper client relationships virtually. We can take a lesson from online retailers: regular touchpoints, both virtually and physically, can help you elevate your client discovery process.