Engaging new clients during lockdown

6 min read 10 Mar 21

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Our In-Focus series looks at how advisers have adapted to the ongoing pandemic and particularly the challenges – and opportunities – that this has created for firms when it comes to engaging new clients. While research from late last year has shown that many advisers have been finding new business understandably difficult amidst Covid, it’s not all bad news, as we discover in this interesting and optimistic outlook from Carolyne Russell from adviser firm, Advanta Wealth. Read on to find out Advanta’s view on what it takes to get new clients on board during lockdown.

Amidst all the concerns and uncertainties we all faced when the first lockdown was announced last year, one of the questions at the front of my mind was just how are we going to engage new clients during a pandemic?

Fast forward almost twelve months and although it hasn’t all been plain sailing, we have actually had a really positive experience with new business despite Covid. But the most interesting part of this is what we’ve seen and learned along the way, and what this has ultimately taught us about how we work with new clients now and in the future.

Surely one of the biggest changes brought about by the pandemic has been the switch to video calls instead of face-to-face client meetings. At Advanta we were pretty familiar with communicating via Skype between our Glasgow and London offices already but getting to grips with new software such as Microsoft Teams in those first few day was, well, interesting!

Given how much we’ve all come to rely on video calls as a means of communication during the pandemic, it may come as a surprise that we still choose to start out with a phone call to prospective clients, most of which come to us via referrals. While this approach may not reinvent the wheel, crucially, what it does do is give new clients the space to start scoping us out and familiarising themselves with us as a business. This felt particularly important given that new clients couldn’t get the reassurance that often comes from setting foot in our office and seeing first hand that we’re a legitimate and serious business.

And crucially, we also found that starting out with a phone call instead of a video meeting means the client doesn’t feel they have to commit to anything too early on. Only once they are comfortable after this initial call will we then arrange a follow up video meeting.

Taking it slow(er)

So much of this initial contact with new clients during lockdown has been about making it clear that they’re in charge to decide if and when to take things forward, even if that means taking things at a slightly slower pace. And this has naturally led to a change in how we work too.

Before Covid, timings of new client meetings would be restricted by meeting room space in our office but now if a client wants to keep talking and the meeting runs over, that’s no problem over video call. We’ve even had clients who almost forget where they are and end up talking for a couple of hours, or sometimes their child will wander over to sit on their knee while the dog jumps up to say hello too. In any case, we just go with the flow. After all, spending this type of time with a new client is a much more personal way of getting to know them that really helps build up trust early in the relationship.

The key of course is to make sure that we have allowed enough time in our diaries for these more open-ended client meetings and it’s important for firms to recognise that their advisers will need more flexibility and available scope to make this work.

Biggest hurdle? Wet signatures

It hasn’t all been straightforward and, like many adviser firms, one of the main challenges we faced almost immediately when lockdown hit was getting application forms completed with client signatures. Thankfully our IT manager (who really should be wearing a cape!) was able to quickly introduce us to DocuSign and Adobe Fill and Sign so we could email clients and get e-signatures in a secure environment.

However other parties that we work with, particularly bigger life companies, have been frustratingly slow to implement similar processes around e-signatures. And there are also some niche areas of the provider market which still just don’t seem interested in moving forward like this.

Younger generations seeking advice

The road out of the pandemic may not yet be clear but there is always a silver lining and in this case it has to be the younger clients who have been reaching out to us for advice over the past year.

We have seen a notable uptick in the number of new clients in their mid-thirties seeking advice with us because, for them, Covid has been a bit of a wake-up call and they want to be better prepared for the unexpected going forwards.

Engaging younger generations with advice has been a challenge for the advice industry but could the impact of Covid be what finally cracks the nut? It’s certainly true that technology like video calls is exactly the type of flexible, informal and personal communication which has the potential to break down some of the barriers and perceptions that younger clients have of financial advice. And that’s certainly something to feel optimistic about for the long-term future of our industry beyond this pandemic.

Find out more:

Our new adviser CRP research also highlights some of the changes advisers are seeing when it comes to engaging both new and existing clients.  The number of advisers, for example, who believe it’s important to meet with the dependents of their retired clients has increased from 56% to 59% since last year – a situation which could be well suited to the more informal client video meetings that Carolyne from Advanta discusses in her piece. Other interesting changes highlighted in the research include a decrease (71% in 2020 to 67% in 2021) in advisers’ focus on minimising inheritance tax liabilities for clients.

If you’re interested to find out more you can register for the full report below.