The great pandemic of 2020 has forever changed our clients, our businesses and ourselves in ways we have not fully yet appreciated. We are experiencing a rapid and sometimes traumatic shift in the way we think about work and business. So, what might this mean for the advice market and financial planning practices in Australia? Five areas might deserve attention in your practice to capitalise on the silver lining to this chaotic year.
- Client led communication and interaction
It could be argued that never have we thought about the client as much. The businesses who focused on timely, relevant, and frequent communication at the start of the pandemic reminded their clients about the value of the relationship. Those that picked up the phone to ask their clients how they were feeling and what they might need reminded their clients of the value of advice.
When the family and friends of our clients were suffering, it was the Advisers who sat at the forefront of their client’s mind in terms of trust and value who are now getting referrals. Building this level of communication into your Marketing and Communications calendar so that it becomes intuitive to the client experience is a fantastic opportunity for those who have not gone down this path before.
An outcome of this intense period of personal communication allowed many to listen to how the client wanted to interact with the business. Whether it be by phone, video conference, webinar, email, waiting until an in-person meeting can be held or a combination of these, clients dictated how we served their communication wants during this time. The opportunity is to carry this forward into the ongoing service package of the client and carving the client out of the mediums they are not currently interested in.
- Flexible and remote working
Businesses who were able to pivot quickly from commercial to home offices gained precious time for client contact in the early days of the pandemic in Australia. Key to this was mobile hardware and cloud-based software along with solid policies surrounding working from home arrangements concerning Workplace Health and Safety, client data and privacy, and expense management. The flow-on effect enables a greater focus on the client leading to an enhanced chance that the business will come out of the ensuing recession with low to no undesired staff turnover or redundancies.
The opportunity from here is the ability to retain the benefits from the lack of commuting and crisis productivity to a sustained environment for staff retention, productivity, efficiency, security, wellbeing, and profitability.
- Data – client and business
Good client data provides opportunity. Good file data minimises risk. Performance data enhances decision making and great business data increases valuations. So why don’t we focus on it more? During the pandemic, we were overwhelmed with data that we initially soaked up like sponges.
When crises fatigue set-in, many either tuned out to the worsening statistics or became ruthless with what they tuned in to. This clarity around what you need to make decisions and what you want for context is an opportunity to focus your practice on the same in the coming months. Before the busyness of the world returns, we have an opportunity to reset the data outputs to get what the business needs to find opportunity in the new environment.
- The tech stack
COVID-19 helped us see very quickly which technology we were heavily reliant on, what was efficient and what is clunky and hard to manage. Crisis modelling the practice financials put our technology spend into sharp focus. If the opportunity is to be digitising the client experience, enable long-term flexible work, and make sense of the possible data swamp in your business then the key is an efficient network of appropriate technology operating across the practice.
A streamlined tech stack with an absence of functional cross-over between systems can increase the speed of your service delivery, lower your cost to serve and deliver timely business metrics. Understanding your technology spend per headcount allows you to determine whether the return on investment for your technology and people is delivering. Being militant about cybersecurity and data privacy in a post-pandemic market will get us past the inevitable barrier of remote working in environments where others may be able to see data more easily by accident or design.
- Industry advocacy
No matter your political leaning, the agility our legislators and regulators have shown during the crises is an opportunity for our industry. Practices have also proven (again) that what we do benefits those Australians who receive advice through the good and the bad. We have a cohort of passionate people who push our agenda at the highest levels and the more grassroots support they have, the louder their voice becomes.
Our first opportunity is to have some of the temporary legislation – time-critical, certifying ID remotely, where we can provide a Record of Advice – made permanent. Retaining an agile approach to regulatory improvements are things practices can push for with the Minister, ASIC and your Federal Member either on your own or through your preferred industry association.
The history books are writing an interesting chapter this year and we will forever recall how our worlds shrank to the size of our homes and the reach of our laptops. We may not be out of this yet but the silver lining as a practice and industry is a set of opportunities it might have otherwise taken us years to explore.