An Un­no­ticed Dis­rup­tive Force

Face-to-screen tech­nol­ogy al­lows ad­vi­sors to seek clients who live far from their of­fices, but it also in­creases competition, Bob Veres says.

Financial Planning - - CONTENT - By Bob Veres

Face-to-screen tech­nol­ogy al­lows ad­vi­sors to seek clients who live far away, but it also in­creases competition.

How do you take ad­van­tage of a trend that al­lows you to serve a client any­where in the world? Spe­cial­iza­tion.

PLAN­NING FIRMS ARE STILL TRY­ING to fig­ure out what to do about the on-again, off-again fidu­ciary rule, and whether robo tech­nol­ogy is friend or foe. But my can­di­date for the most dis­rup­tive force sweep­ing through our pro­fes­sional space is some­thing much sim­pler and less-dis­cussed: face-to­screen tech­nol­ogy.

At nearly at ev­ery con­fer­ence I at­tend these days, I hear from found­ing ad­vi­sors who have moved to a warm lo­ca­tion and com­mu­ni­cate with their staff via tele­screen, us­ing one of a grow­ing num­ber of op­tions to con­nect: Skype, Google Han­gouts, Face­time, Slack, Go­tomeet­ing. Join.me, oovoo, Cisco We­bex, Zoom, Mag­no­call or Gru­veo. If a key staff mem­ber moves, the firm sets up a video ca­pa­bil­ity for him or her to con­tinue work­ing “along­side” the home of­fice staff.

To give one ex­am­ple, at Searcy Fi­nan­cial in Over­land Park, Kansas, the founder, Mike Searcy, has re­lo­cated to Naples, Florida, while his daugh­ter, Jes­sica Mal­don­ado, a com­pany vice pres­i­dent, rou­tinely di­als in from Phoenix. The com­pany’s di­rec­tor of mar­ket­ing, Cali Gille­spie, works out of her home in Man­hat­tan, Kansas. Client meet­ings have Searcy, Mal­don­ado and staff mem­bers in the home of­fice all on the screen at the same time, some­times with the client hus­band and wife tele­con­fer­enc­ing in from dif­fer­ent lo­ca­tions as well.

The grow­ing fea­si­bil­ity of hav­ing a vir­tual firm with staff lo­cated here, there and every­where has in­ter­est­ing life­style and re­cruit­ing im­pli­ca­tions. But the truly dis­rup­tive part is the im­pact on client re­la­tion­ships, and ul­ti­mately the value propo­si­tion of the plan­ners them­selves. Just about ev­ery plan­ning firm has had clients move away to a new state. Video tech­nol­ogy makes it much eas­ier to main­tain those client re­la­tion­ships.

But there’s also an im­pact on lo­cal clients who no longer have to drive through city traf­fic to meet in per­son with the plan­ning team. In­stead, they can con­ve­niently tele­con­fer­ence in and par­tic­i­pate in those meet­ings face-to-screen.

A BET­TER VALUE PROPO­SI­TION

That, in turn, means that those client con­ver­sa­tions can be quicker and more fre­quent. No longer does the plan­ner have to sched­ule an hour in or­der to jus­tify the com­mute time in­vested by clients. They can talk about what­ever is go­ing on in a quick chat and get off the line — and have these con­ver­sa­tions when­ever the client has ques­tions or is­sues, rather than once a quar­ter. This has the po­ten­tial to raise a firm’s value propo­si­tion and, at the same time, lower the time com­mit­ments of a client re­la­tion­ship.

But, most im­por­tant, think about the mar­ket­ing im­pli­ca­tions of a world that is mov­ing in­creas­ingly to­ward face-to-screen re­la­tion­ships. When you can meet with peo­ple vir­tu­ally, it re­moves the ge­o­graph­i­cal bar­ri­ers to mar­ket­ing your­self and your firm.

No longer are you con­fined to work­ing with clients who hap­pen to live within 20 or 30 miles of your of­fice. Now you can have close work­ing re­la­tion­ships with peo­ple who live any­where in the coun­try — or, for that mat­ter, any­where in the world.

The end of ge­o­graphic bar­ri­ers for you and your firm is the good news. The bad news is that vir­tual client meet­ings open the door to ev­ery other ad­vi­sor in the coun­try — or the world — com­pet­ing with you right there in your mar­ket. There is no rea­son that an ideal client work­ing in an of­fice up­stairs from you in your build­ing couldn’t be meet­ing vir­tu­ally with a plan­ner based on the far side of the Mis­sis­sippi. With in­creas­ingly cloud-based soft­ware and au­to­mated doc­u­ment sign­ing tech­nol­ogy, the of­fice visit is not just un­nec­es­sary, it is go­ing to look in­creas­ingly anachro­nis­tic.

FIGHT BACK

How do you take ad­van­tage of this trend — or fight back against the tens of thou­sands of ad­vi­sors who might al­ready be poach­ing on your ter­ri­tory? I think the vir­tual trend is go­ing to spur an­other trend: spe­cial­iza­tion.

If ev­ery­body is com­pet­ing for busi­ness every­where, that means a young doc­tor in res­i­dency will go on­line and look for a plan­ner who spe­cial­izes in help­ing young doc­tors in res­i­dency — even if that per­son lives a thou­sand miles away — rather than a general prac­ti­tioner who works with any­body and ev­ery­body from a nearby of­fice build­ing, who would have to bone up on the ca­reer and fi­nan­cial op­tions of a bud­ding doc­tor.

So my first ad­vice, par­tic­u­larly to younger plan­ners, is to iden­tify a spe­cialty. It could be psy­cho­graphic, like show horse own­ers, se­ri­ous bi­cy­cling en­thu­si­asts, art col­lec­tors or sport fish­er­men. It could be nar­row pro­fes­sional niches like casino card deal­ers, rodeo clowns, free­lance artists or diplo­mats posted abroad.

These niches wouldn’t be fea­si­ble when you’re limited to work­ing only with clients in your im­me­di­ate vicin­ity, but they make abun­dant sense in a world where clients are do­ing a na­tional search for peo­ple who work specif­i­cally with in­di­vid­u­als like them.

Just as im­por­tant, ad­vi­sors are go­ing to have to be­come more in­ter­est­ing in their web pro­file. Most web­sites have nice graph­ics that de­pict a com­fort­able re­tire­ment, bios of the staff and a map to their of­fice lo­ca­tion.

But when clients are con­duct­ing global web searches for just the right plan­ner, re­gard­less of phys­i­cal lo­ca­tion, they are go­ing to be most at­tracted to work­ing with plan­ners whose sites have in­ter­est­ing in­ter­ac­tive quizzes and ques­tion­naires, Youtube videos where you an­swer ques­tions you’ve heard re­cently from clients, plus blogs on fi­nan­cial top­ics like the new tax re­form pro­pos­als and how much it costs to own a pet.

They may even do their own plan­ning on your web­site. Re­cently, plan­ning soft­ware pro­grams like Moneyguide­pro, emoney and Ad­vizr have in­tro­duced features that would al­low sub­scrib­ing plan­ners to put sur­pris­ingly ro­bust plan­ning ca­pa­bil­i­ties up on their web­sites, so prospects can ex­plore their fi­nan­cial op­tions be­fore mak­ing that on-screen ap­point­ment.

If this face-to-screen trend con­tin­ues to gather steam — and why wouldn’t it? — it could turn the whole plan­ning world up­side down. Re­gard­less of the home of­fice lo­ca­tion, the found­ing plan­ners and key staff could work from any­where they choose and re­cruit tal­ent from any­where and link them into the work flows and meet­ings.

Searcy re­cently told me that since he moved to Naples and his daugh­ter moved to Phoenix, they see more of each other than they did when she was work­ing out of an of­fice two doors down from his.

These dis­trib­uted firms will have one or more very tightly de­fined niches that seek clients from any­where in the coun­try; hold shorter, more fre­quent meet­ings with them; and build more in­ter­est­ing web ex­pe­ri­ences as the front door to client re­la­tion­ships.

For those who re­mem­ber “The Jet­sons,” the fu­tur­is­tic 1960s kid­die show, its “tele­vi­sor” looks like where the plan­ning pro­fes­sion is go­ing — or, in some cases, is al­ready.

When would-be clients are con­duct­ing web searches for just the right plan­ner, ad­vi­sors are go­ing to have to have a much more in­ter­est­ing on­line pres­ence.

Bob Veres, a Fi­nan­cial Plan­ning colum­nist in San Diego, is pub­lisher of Inside In­for­ma­tion, an in­for­ma­tion ser­vice for fi­nan­cial ad­vis­ers. Visit fi­nan­cial-plan­ning.com to post com­ments on his columns or email them to bob@bob­veres.com. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @Bob­veres.

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