The pandemic likely sped up the financial industry’s ongoing digital shift by several years, if not more. While in person meetings have mostly been cancelled, advisors have found new ways to be there for their clients. After all, the importance of the advisor-client relationship is one of the few things that hasn’t changed in our new normal.

Advice at its core will always be personal, which requires a human element. Amid the recent volatility and uncertainty, more advisors began using digital channels to connect with clients on that human level.

Going forward, the need to be in person will likely never return to pre-pandemic levels, but the need for human, personalized insight will only continue to grow. This means advisors of today and tomorrow must continue meeting clients on their terms, while delivering the same fidelity of value, regardless of the interaction medium. The client portal will be the centerpiece of this relationship in the digital era, connecting the most relevant news and information with the user’s overall financial profile.

Face Time On Demand
The pandemic accelerated the digitization of customer interactions across industries by several years, according to a recent McKinsey Global Survey of executives. Since the beginning of the year, social distancing, remote education, and work-from-home setups have forced a rapid increase in the adoption and use of digital tools. Many of these innovations are increasingly blurring the distinction between in-person and virtual communication and relationships. In short, face time can now happen anytime, and from anywhere.

This is especially good news given that, before the pandemic, many clients said they weren’t “feeling the love” from their advisors. According to a YCharts survey conducted in December 2019, the majority of survey respondents, and nearly half of high-AUM (assets under management) respondents, said they heard from their advisor infrequently, and more than a quarter said that their advisor contacted them very infrequently.

The survey also found that, at the end of last year, many clients said they wanted advisors to communicate with them in a more personalized way. For example, 75% of clients indicated that they wanted their advisor to send updates that are personalized to them.

What’s more, when asked if communication style would be considered when deciding to retain their advisor, 85% of clients said “yes.” That amount was slightly higher, nearly 9 out of 10, for clients with $500,000 or more in assets under management.

From the activity we’ve seen across our platform since March, we would expect different survey results from a similar survey looking at 2020. Despite shutdowns and the hastened shift to remote working, the advisor-client relationship seemed to only gain strength over the past year, thanks to innovation.

In the first quarter alone, Envestnet | MoneyGuide saw a 39% increase in new client portal users and a 44% rise in client portal logins compared to the first quarter of 2019. While through the third quarter, Envestnet | Tamarac saw a 58% jump in client portal accounts compared to the same time period in 2019. (As we near the end of year when many are focusing on year-ahead planning, now is the time for advisors to be asking themselves how their clients would reply to this survey if they took it today? The answer can help set priorities for 2021.)

Delivering the Digital/Human Touch 24/7
More than ever, digital channels are empowering advisors to remain connected with clients on a human level in this new normal environment. Specifically, new innovations for personalizing communication are enabling advisors to continue meeting clients’ needs on an intimate level, even when they cannot meet in person.

In addition to personalized communication, in our new normal clients want on-demand, real-time, access to financial data through a digital portal 24/7. This has gone from being a nice-to-have to a must-have when it comes to meeting the needs of clients who want the same experiences for all things money and finances as they can have for online shopping. (This has become even more the case amid the heavy market volatility and economic uncertainty brought on by the pandemic.)

The pandemic has also greatly increased familiarity with e-signature, cloud-based document management and video conferencing technology, according to the third-quarter 2020 issue of “The Cerulli Edge—U.S. Advisor Edition.”

Below are some key tips for how advisors can get the most value out of digital offerings, and optimize their human touch with clients in our new normal.

Your Clients

Your Practice

Your Technology

The pandemic indeed has sped up the digital transformation of our industry, with digital serving as the needed human touch between advisors and their clients in more ways than ever. The age-old advisor-client relationship won’t go away in the digital age, but, via the right technology and tools, instead it can become even deeper and more meaningful than ever.

Dani Fava is Head of Strategic Development at Envestnet, Inc.