Advisors should get used to conducting virtual meetings because they’re unlikely to go away, according to practice consultant Ken Haman.

While meetings online have been possible for years, they were slow to catch on until the coronavirus pandemic forced advisors to work from home and eliminated the possibility of meeting with their clients face to face. Now, as the world begins to reopen, the financial industry can’t afford to assume that things will return completely to normal, says Haman, the managing director of AllianceBernstein’s AB Advisor Institute.

“As the size of screens and image quality increases, I think you’ll continue to see substantial adoption of virtual meetings,” Haman says. “Some clients will strongly prefer it and the quality of what the advisor can do in a virtual meeting for them.

“But I do think that some face-to-face meetings will continue to be a part of the business,” he adds. “Humans are humans; our behaviors are consistent over time. We adapt in the short term, but maintain consistent patterns in the long term.”

After being forced to use the technology, advisors and clients are now both familiar and comfortable with virtual meetings, he says. He adds that he was “surprised by how adaptive everybody was and impressed with how relationship-focused advisors were.”

The concept of annual, semiannual or quarterly face-to-face meetings between advisors and clients was already waning before the outbreak, he notes. Advisors and clients are both probably less enthusiastic about restarting in-person meetings than they are about returning to dinners, concerts and parties.

He says virtual meetings will likely become a permanent part of doing business because they’re more efficient for clients and advisors, they’re easy to set up, and they don’t require people to travel in order to meet, which makes scheduling meetings much easier.

Client Control
Virtual meetings will likely give clients and prospects more control over the interactions with their advisors—more ability to decide when the talks happen, for instance. More say in the length of the meetings. More ability to dictate start and end times (where etiquette might prevent them from leaving an in-person meeting early). Clients will also have more say over the focus of the presentations when meeting online.

In face-to-face meetings, by contrast, clients are more likely to disengage early, Haman says, or to reject content they deem as irrelevant.

In an era of virtual encounters, advisors will be forced to make their conversations more relevant, otherwise the clients will tune out, Haman says. The meetings must have a defined goal or purpose, and focus on the client’s needs and preferences. The client’s attention may wander because he or she knows that the meetings can now be recorded, replayed and reviewed. So while advisors are presenting, they might be dealing with clients who are multitasking—turning to their social media, texts or news feeds instead of paying attention.

That all puts the burden on advisors to make sure they are delivering a succinct, potent message. “Clients are going to expect a higher quality of data,” he says. “They’re not going to tolerate a talking head going on about their portfolio. Over time, advisors are going to have to accommodate a lot of this stuff, and they’re probably not going to like all of the control they’re going to cede over to their clients. They’re going to have to learn how to exert not control, but influence. In virtual meetings, the relationship skills they have developed—rapport building and salesmanship—are diminished in their influence.”

Advisors will also have to be better prepared for meetings, Haman says. They can’t afford to just let the conversation flow. The breadth of advice they offer will also have to increase to differentiate them from rapidly improving and evolving digital alternatives.

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