The coronavirus crisis has thrust digital transformation into the advice industry so rapidly that a digital form of Darwinism is taking place.
The technological tools and next-generation systems that advisers were gradually adopting have become essential now. Things like video conferencing, document sharing portals and scanning apps that were nice-to-have yesterday are the only way to service clients today.
“The whole COVID-19 thing has put us in a situation where we have to adapt or die,” says Tyson Jonas, principal at Jonas Wealth Management in Brisbane.
Jonas is one of the fortunate advisers that’s been an early adopter on technology and finds himself well-placed to adapt to a completely work-from-home model. For a lot of advisers, though, changing the way they operate will involve a steeper climb.
It’s a brutal development for an industry already reeling from an overcooked regulatory system and recently raised educational standards. But it’s not all bad news. The ones who are adapting will find themselves in a world where they have the tools to survive. What’s more, there will less people fighting for their place in the ecosystem.
Adviser Jason Poole, who runs GPA Matrix in Newcastle, says the “crazy thing” is that the current opportunity to digitally transform could actually be a lifeline for advisers.
“The point is you need to react, but if you do respond you’ll be in a market where you’ll be able to compete,” Poole says. “If you can adapt and survive, the best days are ahead of us.”
Poole says he’s calculated a “conservative” $150,000 annual saving for his practice just by using Calendly for appointment bookings and Zoom for meetings. Most of these savings are linked to travel time and back office efficiency, he explains.
“I’m using the technology smartly so I get a buffer between meetings and more time in front of clients,” he says. “We’re humming.”
Some of the savings brought about with technological leaps are relatively minor, but when digital transformation means advisers can start ditching rented offices the cost savings stack up.
“For a lot of firms their office would be up there as an expense along with licensee fees and wages,” Jonas says.
The Brisbane adviser believes that having the technology in itself isn’t enough – advisers need to learn how to use it well. “For me it’s just a case of utilising technology as best I can to improve efficiency and the client experience,” he says.
Jonas gives the example of Zoom, the ubiquitous software that has usurped Skype to become the leader in the videoconferencing market since the crisis.
“When you’re doing a call by zoom you can record the call and have a record of it,” he explains. “I still have an external hard drive but it means if I ever need to recall something or have a dispute then I don’t need to upload anything,”
Jonas adds that Zoom’s whiteboard functionality is also useful in client meetings. “It’s just about using the tools more efficiently.”
Industry coming together
One of the more positive developments during the recent rapid digital transformation has been the proliferation of advisers reaching out and helping each other understand new technology.
“The community has been great on this,” says Verante Financial Planning principal Liam Shorte. “Advisers are sharing ideas and training each other on the all the different apps and things that are out there.”
GPA Matrix’s Poole says he’s been active in reaching out to fellow advisers to offer training, which they’ve been happy to take up.
“I’ve helped a few firms convert over in the last week,” he says. “It’s not hard.”
Poole explains how he helped an associate set up scheduling software Calendly for their review meetings and link it up with Zoom.
“Yesterday we had a catchup after 7 days and they said it’s all working, the appointments are just dropping in,” he says.
Product providers are also stepping in to help advisers shift to the new world, including insurer TAL, who is providing a webinar for advisers to share their experiences and insights on technology.
“For us, the webinar is about sharing knowledge around virtual tools and being aware of the risks that advisers need to consider when working remotely,” says Beau Riley, TAL’s Head of Licensees and Partnerships. “Licensees and advisers should continue to build on these virtual solutions to find ways to improve efficiencies in the advice process.”