New technology makes reaching out a lot easier.
For many financial advisors, working in a remote
environment with clients is an everyday challenge. At first glance, the
idea might seem to be contrary to good time management, if an advisor
has to travel to a client or potential client's home or place of
business in order to conduct an appointment.
But, for a number of advisors, it is simply not possible to arrange meetings with clients in the advisor's office. This may be because of geographical challenges (i.e. the advisor covers a large area and has clients spread out) or it could be due to the inability of a client to travel to their office (house-bound or elderly).
Some advisors I have spoken with have moved their practice from one part of the country to another and decided to retain their clients in the former territory. Serving the needs of these clients requires a fair amount of travel and time management discipline. If an advisor lives and works in an area of the country that supports part-time residents (winter or summer), there could be licensing and registration issues to contend with, along with the geographical challenges.
I spoke recently with Steve O'Hara, CFP, a principal with Financial Strategy Network LLC in Chicago. Steve has a practice with clients in both Chicago and Los Angeles. What started out as a minor issue with a few clients in Los Angeles has now blossomed into a large group of clients that requires him to travel monthly to L.A. Steve's practice has developed a virtual private network (VPN) to allow him access to secure client files and other information when he is on the road. He connects to his VPN using Symantec's PCAnywhere product (http://sea.symantec.com/content/product.cfm?productid=16). Though he has sparingly used Web-based conferencing solutions, he indicated that the idea hasn't caught on with him yet.
A popular alternative to PCAnywhere is GoToMyPC.com (gotomypc.com), a Web-based connection portal that permits a user to log in to his/her home or office computer via the internet from virtually any location, including Web-enabled cell phones, PDAs or public-use computers (cybercafes). For a monthly subscription charge that can be as low as $14.95 (if purchased annually), a user can have unlimited use of the portal to access anything that resides on their computer.
Whether you are using PCAnywhere or GoToMyPC.com, or another remote software solution, the keys to making this work for remote advisors appear to be security, speed of access and an ability to print remotely. Most solutions offer encrypted access for security purposes. With the increasing use of faster broadband connections and free Wi-Fi "hotspots" at local restaurants, hotels and airports, gaining access through the Web is becoming increasingly popular and available.
For printing, there are limited options. Canon offers a portable printer (Pixma i80 Portable Color Printer) that produces outstanding results in a compact package. The i80 printer offers both IrDA (infrared) compatibility and an optional Bluetooth interface enabling you to print wirelessly from a PC, PDA or mobile phone. They also offer an optional Canon car adapter and rechargeable battery kit (http://estore.usa.canon.com). And, at print speeds of up to 14 pages per minute (ppm) in black and 10 ppm in color, this lightweight mobile printer is no slacker in the speed department.
Beyond hardware offerings, software developers have recognized the need for different client communication solutions. There is now a host of new technology offerings out there to help the remote advisor, not the least of which is an interactive Web site technology.
Web sites can and probably should do more than just deliver information. (See Financial Advisor magazine, January 2005, What's Your Web Site For?) Interactive Web sites give your clients the opportunity to interact with various features such as account lookup, goal calculators and the ability to send messages to you. But there is a new trend emerging, live conferencing, and it goes way beyond instant messaging technology.
Advisor Square (www.advisorsquare.com) has added cool tools to enhance your Web site, including instant message conferencing. Their new service, IMConferencing, touts a feature-rich interface with the ability to show a PowerPoint presentation, use a white board with the capability of the client to draw on it as well, and tie the conversation to a VOIP (Voice Over Internet Protocol) phone system or traditional phone conferencing. The advantage is an interactive experience with the client that is almost like you are sitting there in front of them. You can even show a photo or live video of yourself to your clients. If they have a Webcam, you can see them as well.
MSN Messenger has released a new version of its instant messaging service that permits people to connect with a list of contacts chosen by the user. Once connected, the user can send a file or photo, start an audio conversation, initiate a Webcam, share an application (such as a PowerPoint presentation) or start a whiteboard with remote user access. A user can even send a message to a mobile device such as a cell phone or personal data assistant (PDA).
Yahoo (www.messenger.yahoo.com) offers a similar service. In recent tests, the Webcam feature had a considerably slower frame rate (how many pictures show per second) than with competing services. However, Yahoo has recently added a Super Webcam service to take advantage of higher broadband connection speeds.
Both MSN messenger and Yahoo Messenger are primarily designed for one-to-one communications. If you have the need for multiple participants in differing locations (i.e. an attorney or CPA), you will need to look at a more robust solution such as the IMConferencing service from AdvisorSquare mentioned above.
Or, you could look to Microsoft. Microsoft offers a similar service called Microsoft Office Live Meeting (http://office.microsoft.com/livemeeting) for business owners, with flexible pricing options including per-minute charges. But beware that this could become quite costly, as you are paying per-minute charges for each participant in a Web conference.
Some financial advisors have opted to keep their practices simple and not use state-of-the-art technology to meet their clients' needs. For those advisors, the personal touch appears to be the key. "Meeting with that client one on one usually results in business and justifies the long drive to meet with them," says Jan Richey, CFP, CLU, CSA, a financial practitioner based in Brentwood, Tenn., a suburb of Nashville.
Jan mentioned that he meets with clients as far away as Chattanooga (more than two hours) and Memphis (more than three hours) on a regular basis. He says that the key for him is qualifying a prospect in advance before making the trip. Most of his prospects are referrals from existing clients.
Rather than use sophisticated Internet connections to his office computers, he has converted his vehicle into a mobile office and uses a laptop computer for illustrations and pricing info. Jan mentioned that another key to making this work is frequent communications with clients. Handwritten birthday cards, quarterly newsletters, phone calls and e-mails are a few of the ways that he keeps in touch.
If you are a remote advisor, there are a host of options available to you and your practice to increase the efficiency of your communications with clients.
David Lawrence is a practice
efficiency consultant and is president of David Lawrence and
Associates, a practice consulting firm based in Lutz, Fla.