It’s hard to say how many virtual financial advisors are out there, but more advisors are launching virtual-only practices and brick-and-mortar firms are also delivering more advice remotely to clients they may rarely or never see.

Virtual advisors range in age from baby boomers to millennials, said Michael Kitces, a partner and director of wealth management with Maryland-headquartered Pinnacle Advisory Group and co-founder of XY Planning Network. Virtual advisors span from larger firms (such as Vanguard Personal Advisor Services and Personal Capital) to solo firms (including XYPN members), he said.

Lower operating costs are one attraction. According to McKinsey & Co.’s 2015 report “The Virtual Financial Advisor: Delivering Personalized Financial Advice in the Digital Age,” a successful virtual model can deliver cost reductions of as much as 40% to 50%.

“But that varies wildly by firm depending on size and location,” said Kitces. “And for many firms, it’s more about being able to serve clients anywhere than cost savings of an office.”

Flexibility enticed Lazetta Rainey Braxton, an MBA and CFP, to adopt a virtual model in 2008 when she launched Financial Fountains, her fee-only comprehensive financial planning firm that serves mass-affluent clients and works on retainer.

Braxton, now a New Yorker, didn’t have to stop and start her practice every time her family moved around the country for her husband’s career. Her home-based virtual practice also reduces her overhead, allows her to be more present for her daughter, makes it easy for her to continue to work with clients who’ve moved, and gives her more time for speaking and consulting engagements, she said.

A virtual practice might not work “if you need energy from the buzz of the office,” said Braxton, “but I’m not wired that way.”

She uses the Zoom platform for client videoconferences and works with an executive assistant who lives in Florida. When onboarding clients, she walks them through the technology and teaches them how to link accounts, find documents and share screens.

“Even if clients don’t see me in person,” she said, “the relationships are still very personal.” Retirees are often comfortable communicating virtually because that’s how they already connect with their grandchildren, she added.

Luis Rosa, a CFP and IRS enrolled agent, describes becoming a virtual advisor as “a happy accident.”

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