For financial advisors, the thought of working remotely sounds cool. You don’t have to be an office slave, and you can serve your clients from anywhere as long as you have access to the proper technology (and make certain everything is encrypted). Seems like a far-off dream, but many advisors are doing it now.
“I travel up to three months during the year, and sometimes am gone up to three weeks at a time. There’s no way as a sole practitioner I could do that without my technology,” said Rick Kahler, president of Kahler Financial Group in Rapid City, S.D. “It enables me to have a lifestyle I otherwise wouldn’t be able to have.”

Kahler spoke remotely via Google+ Hangouts during a panel discussion on working with clients remotely during Napfa’s fall conference last month in Philadelphia. He spoke from his office as his face was splashed on a video screen, while the other two panelists were in the room in Philly. They discussed some of the tools and logistics involved with switching from a reliance on face time meetings to embracing virtual encounters.

Kahler said roughly 50% of his clients are served remotely, and that one of his former tools of choice was Skype, the voice-over-IP phone service that lets users make calls either free or dirt cheap (depending on how the calls are made). But now he relies on GoToMeeting, an online service that enables users to have meetings with up to 25 attendees. He said the service costs him $50 a month.

Christopher Jones, founder and president of Sparrow Wealth Management, moved his practice from eastern Pennsylvania to Las Vegas two years ago. Currently, just 3% of his clients live in Las Vegas. He maintains a satellite office in Allentown, Pa., which he uses when he flies back East for some face time with clients who still require it. “But the majority of my interactions are done remotely,” he said, adding that since moving to Las Vegas he’s probably had a higher growth rate in Pennsylvania than at any time since he started his practice.

Jones said he uses both Skype and GoToMeeting, and added that Internet speed is key regarding the latter. And he’s big on ShareFile, a cloud-based file sharing and storage service. “I’ve found ShareFile to be insanely helpful,” Jones said, adding that it’s a secure service. “All of my client documents are in ShareFile, and clients have access to them, which makes it really easy to transfer information and do annual reviews.”

Alan Moore, founder of Serenity Financial Consulting, works from Milwaukee and Bozeman, Mont. He said only about half of his clients live in either of those states. When it comes to handling account opening paperwork, he mentioned such options as EchoSign and DocuSign, which are online programs that let you e-mail documents to clients that they can sign electronically. “You can do all of their transfer paperwork in two minutes,” he said.

But not all clients embrace the virtual experience. Jones said he lost a $20 million client––his largest at the time––when he moved out West. “I do think there are certain types of clients you can’t work with remotely, and they tend to be those very high-net-worth clients who you meet with frequently.”

But most clients won’t miss a beat once they get used to working remotely with their advisor, Moore offered. “The client relationship doesn’t take a step back because you can offer them the same service with more flexibility for both parties.”