When the pandemic prompted my wealth management firm to implement a remote working policy in mid-March, I personally thought it would be a temporary change. Then I’d be back to business as usual soon enough. While I’ve worked fluidly for five years — sometimes meeting clients in our office, other times jumping on an airplane to meet them at their office or home, or speaking at a conference — I just hadn’t done many video conferences before COVID-19.
In March I suddenly found myself needing to quickly get up to speed on the technology and figure out my style for how to still connect personally with my clients and colleagues. Four months later, I can report it’s been much more beneficial than I would ever have imagined. And for some of my clients, especially those who are working professionals, our meetings have been more productive and personal than before.
You may ask, “How can that be?” especially in a profession that relies on trust and personal relationships. Like other advisers, I enjoy speaking in person with my clients. We often renew our friendship by catching up on our children, recent vacations and other activities before jumping into business. The best meeting format for connecting on a personal level? They tend to happen at the client’s home.
Now, our video meetings are regularly conducted with clients sitting on their porch or near the pool. Meetings that used to consume two to three hours of time, including traveling, parking and other logistics, now last about one hour. And yet everyone seems less distracted during this one-hour session, even with dogs barking or kids running around in the background. We’re all less frenzied.
To accomplish as much as you can — and keep your financial plan on track — here are a few recommendations:
Have Your Spouse or Partner Attend the Meeting, and Have the Kids Say ‘Hi’
In the pre-COVID-19 days, it wasn’t uncommon for one spouse to miss our meetings because of a work conflict or the need to care for children at home or after school. And even if they could make it, coming into Atlanta often requires a three-hour window due to traffic. Now when the video meeting is held in the living room, spouses can participate more regularly, and the children can enter the picture too! Most of my clients’ financial goals are based around their family, so as an adviser, it’s great for me to see the people who matter the most to my clients.
Before the Meeting, Send a List of Topics to Discuss
We reach out to our clients a week or two in advance of the meeting to gather information, and ask the question “What topics would you like to discuss?” Spending five minutes to think about questions or concerns you want to ensure are addressed, and communicating them in advance, allows your adviser to have thoughtful, personalized responses prepared. Whether it’s discussing challenges with your business, job changes, health issues or the stock market, understanding these concerns will help a wealth adviser prepare to discuss contingency plans and recommend any adjustments to your financial strategy.
Gather Financial Statements and Other Documents
Download and send your adviser copies of recent financial statements for assets outside of their management in advance of the meeting. Some of the most useful documents are your paystub, last year’s tax return, recent stock grants awarded, or any new savings accounts or insurance policies you’ve acquired.
If you’ve updated your will since your last advisory meeting, send that ahead of time too. Advisers should be prepared to review your comprehensive financial plan and ensure savings strategies, asset allocation and risk management plans are still aligned with your goals. Knowing where you stand financially today will provide more clarity into the roadmap going forward.
Be Ready to Discuss Any Lifestyle Changes That May Affect Your Finances
Some working professionals concerned about the longevity of COVID-19 are now considering moving away from the city or sending their children to private schools. If that’s the case, they will likely need additional income or may need to cut expenses elsewhere. Or perhaps their dream of building a backyard retreat with a pool is now feeling like a necessity. Make certain to discuss any potential lifestyle changes and prepare a budget to handle any additional expenses.
Look Ahead to Your 2020 Tax Bill
Although most people only recently filed their 2019 tax returns, it’s not too early to get a handle on your 2020 tax bill. For those who have experienced a salary cut or loss of a bonus, or exercised stock options at a lower price, your taxes may be less. If you may not earn as much income this year, begin discussions now to address any changes to payroll withholdings or estimated tax payments for the remainder of the year.
Finally, Know Your Adviser is Still Accessible, Maybe More, Even If It’s Not in an Office Building
As a married professional with three children, I’ve been able to enjoy breakfast with my family, get in a 5-mile run and work from the comfort of my home office every day. I’ve found more availability to take last-minute phone calls or respond to texts and emails quickly, as I’ve regained three hours of my day with no hectic commute. My pace is more measured and I’m also living a less frenzied lifestyle, giving me more time to focus on my clients. Where you live or work should no longer be a consideration as to what adviser you choose to work with.
We all hope a vaccine will be discovered soon. But until then, let’s make the most of the benefits provided by technology. Use this time as an opportunity to build a stronger relationship with your wealth adviser that can be sustained when the world gradually returns to the “old” normal. You may find the new virtual advisory relationship fits your life best going forward.
(Article written by Kiplinger)