With us all embracing new working practices the industry has begun to consider the long-term implications of the pandemic. Last week I was asked to contribute to a piece that considered the lasting legacy of COVID-19 on the wealth management industry. I do believe that we will witness a lasting change. Social distancing has accelerated the trend of digitisation across wealth management, with firms looking to technology to support their working practices rather than to replace them. Social distancing has reminded us that human connections are fundamentally important. Rather than removing the need for human connection, technology is taking an increasingly key role in enabling these personal interactions. I am not referring here to ‘robo advice’ but to achieving a human interaction through digital means and receiving personal advice.

My long held view that there has never been a greater need for advice has only been strengthened by the current crisis. In mid-March the Financial Times highlighted how wealth managers had seen an increase in calls from investors looking for guidance and reassurance.1 No one should be surprised by this. Most clients are not panicking, but looking for an open dialogue and a richer conversation that I do not believe can be achieved by written communications alone, no matter how regular.

"Social distancing has reminded us that human connections are fundamentally important"

This week I also had a personal meeting with my financial planner and investment manager. I had received a number of email updates from them both throughout the last seven weeks, but these could not replace the value that can be felt in a personal ‘face-to-face’ conversation. Conducted via video conference, this meeting allowed me to have a conversation that wasn’t just about the numbers but about my individual needs and plans. Although in the past I would have waited to hold such a meeting in person, I found it was just as effective and much more convenient. In normal circumstances I may have delayed or even cancelled the meeting due to the time needed out of my day to travel and attend. Ironically we ended up extending the meeting beyond the scheduled time but all from the comfort of my living room.

These time savings have not only been felt by wealth management clients. A CEO of a large private client business recently told me that the lockdown has changed their thinking about the ways technology can be used to support investment managers. They believe that their investment managers have been able to use their time working from home more effectively as they have been able to conduct a higher volume of calls than they might have done previously.

"A CEO of a large private client business recently told me that the lockdown has changed their thinking about the ways technology can be used to support investment managers"

A KPMG 2018 global study showed that 62% of firms still found face-to-face contact with clients to be essential and their primary channel of communication.2 Social distancing has forced us to explore the options of what meeting ‘face-to-face’ could involve. Video chat allows a personal connection that comes from being able to see mannerisms and tone of voice. Screen sharing enables clients to view data and information as it is being discussed, helping them to feel more informed. Of course, there will always be clients who will prefer meeting in person. New or developing client relationships that are in their early stages will especially benefit from meeting in person, but it will no longer be seen as essential in all circumstances.

Successful digitisation can make technology form part of a broader client experience and the wealth management client of the future will value both personal interactions alongside a desire for smooth, technology enabled processes. It has shown that technology, when used to its full potential, allows wealth management firms to refocus their attentions on their key strengths— developing and maintaining their client relationships. From my own personal perspective, I’ll be requesting the choice to engage with my advisers digitally on occasion in the same way as I will also want the choice of engaging digitally with my GP, something I also experienced last week on a Zoom call.

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