Has COVID-19 forever changed how financial advisers work? Since Australia’s first lockdown began over a year ago, advisers (and most other businesses) have been forced to adapt.

As a profession where a lot of time was traditionally spent on the road and in face-to-face meetings, the advice industry had to adapt quickly and smartly to working from home.

And all this at a time when sharemarkets were falling and client queries were rising due to concerns about their portfolios.

‘Virtual’ quickly became the go-to for meetings, with both advisers and clients forced to embrace new technologies if they wanted to interact. While some were slow to adopt the new way, virtual quickly became the norm and now many advisers prefer virtual meetings to face-to-face.

Virtual meetings appeal for several reasons. For starters they are more efficient, especially as advisers and clients become more proficient with the technology required. Then there’s no travel time, freeing up more time for the adviser. It’s also much easier for advisers to present graphs and other data by sharing their screen, with no paper printing involved.

Building the right relationships

Granted, there will always be a place for face-to-face meetings. Despite their benefits, one thing virtual meetings can’t offer is the bond that can be formed by two humans meeting face-to-face.

This is reinforced by our own conversations with advisers. Our regional manager for New South Wales, Chris Hestelow, agrees.

“Advisers have been using virtual meetings to connect with their clients throughout the pandemic and they plan to continue doing so into the future, given the convenience and efficiency it brings. However, many feel that virtual meetings just aren’t quite the same as meeting face to face, especially when trying to build a relationship with a new client.”

Even with their drawbacks, the virtual meetings have certainly struck a chord with advisers. According to a recent survey, over 80% of advisers that currently use virtual meetings plan to use them permanently going forward. This doesn’t mean that advisers will conduct solely virtual meetings; in future, we expect more of a hybrid model, where advisers will work both from home and from the office and meetings are held both face-to-face and virtually, depending on requirements.

The switch to virtual hasn’t meant that advisers have been working less. Far from it, in fact. According to the same survey, around 40% of advisers are working ‘more hours’ or ‘a lot more hours’ than before COVID-19, with the working day starting earlier and lasting longer (as, among other things, working from home removes commuting time).

Advancements in technology have helped ease the burden, and not just for meetings. With face-to-face meetings being difficult, if not impossible at times, an electronic signature service became invaluable. We work in an industry that requires a vast amount of paperwork to be completed and electronic signature services have been key in ensuring that we no longer have to meet face-to-face.

The advice industry has undergone some significant changes over the past year and only time will tell if these changes are for better or worse. Whatever happens, the industry has proved once again that it can withstand adversity and has shown a willingness to change at a crucial time, which can only benefit the end client in the long run.