The Road Ahead - by James Kerley
The past several months certainly have felt surreal. In this unfathomable crisis, almost all of our everyday routines came to a grinding halt. Travel, for example — such a big part of my personal and professional life — was no longer possible. Business “as usual” was on hold or reconfigured indefinitely, as fears and precautions redefined how we engage. Since March, I have had countless conversations with industry leaders both in North America and across the globe. Inevitably, those discussions have centered around how they were surviving the pressing reality of the near term — while also trying to anticipate what may lie ahead and plan for those scenarios. The same questions weigh on everyone’s mind: Where do we go from here? How do we build both tactical and strategic responses when so much is unknown? I’ve found it helpful to conceptualize three stages of transformation for financial services companies — each with its own set of pressing considerations. Today it’s fair to say the first stage (Emergency & Rescue) is behind us for the most part, as organizations move to navigate the second stage (“New Normal”). As the future unfolds and lasting, post-pandemic shifts begin to take hold, companies will navigate the third stage.
For leaders, one topic particularly top of mind is how to support advisors in their shift to a remote operating model. I have consistently observed that, while the predominant method for delivering advice has changed (to virtual from face-to-face), the fundamental core of a solid and meaningful process has not. So, advisors are not modifying the “what” as much as the “how.”
Efficient and productive client interactions are absolutely possible today, especially when advisors ensure they provide the same value and get to the same nuances as in-person. To do so, they need specific scripts for the initial phone call, initial client review, fact-finding appointment, and recommendation appointment. Advisors also must have laser focus on listening actively and asking targeted (and often more) questions. Companies have supported them by quickly getting on board with flexible underwriting requirements, e-applications, and so on.
Advisors may find that more people are willing to talk with them now. The crisis has affected each particular client differently — possibly in terms of his or her own financial situation, personal health, and worries and anxieties. They may already have products, planning, and investments in place — but any gaps they have also feel more pronounced. Some people are more intensely aware of their own mortality, and this view drives heightened interest in protection products like life insurance. Others may regret not having enough emergency savings when the crisis set in, and they may want to focus on planning and stability going forward.
In general, both advisors and clients are adapting quite well to this new environment. Not surprisingly, there are some variations by age. The current situation represents a great partnership opportunity for younger and older advisors, where senior professionals bring relationships to the table, and newer ones excel at using the technology. Clients have responded very positively and welcome the additional communication from advisors. Again, Zoomers (Gen Z) and Millennials tend to lead the way in embracing the virtual technology.
Ultimately, this one application more broadly circles back to the three stages of transformation. The virtual tools and approaches that were critical to basic operations during the first stage (Emergency & Rescue) remain in place to uphold operations throughout the second stage (the “New Normal”) — and are likely to more permanently redefine the third stage (in our “Post-COVID-19 Reality.”)
To find any bright spots among the staggering human and economic toll the pandemic has taken, we will need to look at things in this context. We must identify and expect new — and, often, more innovative and agile — models to stay for good.