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In early April, financial planning leaders across the country gathered virtually to discuss how they have been coping with the impact of COVID-19. The meeting, the latest gathering of CFP Board’s Financial Advice Working Group (FAWG), brought together leaders from top financial services firms across multiple business models to discuss how their firms and teams are adapting and what the implications have been for the financial advice industry.

“Firms recognize that they have an obligation to their advisors working on the frontlines to ensure they have the resources they need,” says Joseph Maugeri, CFP®, CFP Board’s Managing Director of Corporate Relations. “At this FAWG meeting, we explored how to maintain the face-to-face nature of financial advice virtually and how it’s necessary to shape client conversations because of the pandemic.”

The Shift to Virtual Financial Planning

The widespread implementation of work from home policies has ushered in a new era of remote financial planning, a common practice for many individual advisors but something larger firms are adopting en masse.

According to the participants of the FAWG, their top challenge has been overcoming technology issues related to the setup of remote work.

One firm recently launched a webcast series to help their advisors adjust to working remotely. The series focused on communicating with empathy when teaching how to use technology vs. focusing on the tech itself.

This shift to virtual has also led many firms to place an increased emphasis on client communications and making sure the clients are as comfortable as possible when using technology.

According to a representative for one firm, the biggest challenge moving forward will be to maintain the face-to-face financial planning “business model.” As of now, they haven’t seen any issues in terms of losing that element, but it’s something the whole industry will be managing as it moves through this together.

How to Shape Client Conversations in the Era of COVID-19

Understandably, clients are stressed about the implications of the pandemic on their personal finances. FAWG participants have found that the most effective tool to manage stress is financial planning.

But how do you get clients to respond positively to that information? It starts with reframing client conversations to be less about coronavirus.

Many participants in the FAWG said their firms are encouraging their advisors to focus on solutions and start the conversation with ‘how are you doing’ and ‘has anything changed financially’ rather than leading off with anything related to COVID-19.

This gives the advisor an opportunity to go back to the foundations of financial planning and really lean into goal changing discussions.

When clients reach out, FAWG participants emphasized that it’s important for advisors to take the “I’m never too busy for you” approach, which demonstrates a sense of calm and focuses the conversation on the client.

This is important, the firms argue, because it provides an opportunity for client and advisor to start thinking about the value of advice and why the financial planning relationship is so important. This first step is to reframe the advisor conversation – checking in with clients and leaving the interaction open ended rather than agenda driven.

There’s also a tendency, according to CFP Board’s Maugeri, for CFP® professionals to convey a lot of information to clients during times of stress. “In times of stress, it can be more productive to act as a listener first and a financial planner second.”

The Crucial Role of Technology in the Future of Financial Planning

In some ways, the pandemic affirms the takeaways of CFP Board’s 2018 Digital Advice Working Group when it explored the future of financial advice, concluding that technology will play a crucial role in enhancing the services provided by financial advisors without supplanting them.

Although it gained prominence through unforeseen circumstances, virtual meeting technology has made it possible for financial advisors to continue counseling their clients in this time of remote work. Change has arrived for the financial advice industry, and it will be interesting to see the long-term ramifications this shift will have once the immediate crisis subsides.