The financial advice industry has been forced to rapidly—and quite possibly irreversibly—change as a result of the spread of coronavirus (Covid-19) and subsequent lockdown. For clients, the swing has been similarly profound.
While some financial advisers may be used to servicing at least a few clients remotely, others have been busily learning the pros and cons of video conferencing and digital collaboration tools.
Platforms have become very popular with advisers over the years. They allow advisers to manage their clients’ investments in a tax-efficient way, mostly, but not always, online.
For those dealing with platforms and providers that rely on paper, manual sign-offs and wet signatures, the difficult circumstances triggered by coronavirus have been exacerbated. We know of some advisers who have needed to attend offices, against guidance, to deal with paper-based systems.
Conversely, platforms that have invested in automation and straight-through processing (STP) are helping advisers serve clients with minimal disruption.
As many advisers have briskly adapted their business models as a result of lockdown, so too have many providers.
Otherwise manual systems have been re-designed, sometimes in a matter of a few days, to cope with the demands of remote working. It’s been an impressive effort—and may have shown many companies the possibilities of digital systems and processes. Many won’t look back. But as everything has happened so quickly, it won’t have been without some level of increased risk, both to adviser and client.
We won’t have heard the extent of this yet, but the warning signs are there. The National Cyber Security Centre has cautioned that criminals could look to capitalise on the increased use of devices during the pandemic. In the month to 21 April, it said it had closed 200 phishing sites seeking personal information such as passwords or credit card details.
Out of office
In the current environment it has become increasingly important to be able to respond to client needs rapidly and effectively, whilst knowing that advisers are not putting clients’ interests at risk as a result.
With risk and control frameworks built in to the platform automation, the servicing of clients hasn’t changed by the mere fact that advisers, or the platform team, are unable to be in the office.
By removing the need for most manual interventions, platforms can ensure that financial advisers can add new clients and manage their investments and income from the comfort of their home offices. More recently, some platforms have even removed the need for wet signatures during the on-boarding and identity verification stage. This has entirely removed the need for a face-to-face meeting during lockdown and meant advisers can continue serving clients as normal.
These days, all client documents and communication can be sent electronically and stored online where it can be fully accessible for both clients and advisers. This means advisers aren’t forced to go to offices to collect and manage postal services, reducing the risk to their staff and improving the client experience at the same time.
Many thousands of employers have been affected by the coronavirus outbreak and lockdown. For a lot of them, the short-term outlook would have been extremely concerning. They will be glad to see the back of the pandemic and to return to some semblance of normality.
The current situation will also have shown many the possibilities of remote working, of holding virtual meetings with colleagues and customers, and of delivering services in a new way.
In some areas of financial services, running operations online and automating processes are nothing new, though the current environment appears to have enforced adoption by some parts of the market that would otherwise have been slow to take it up.
It will be interesting to see the long-term impacts of the outbreak on adviser behaviour once it is over. Digital offerings mean less time in the office, more time with clients and, generally, lower costs—all of which ultimately benefits the client.