Let’s lead clients out of this crisis

By Pixel Fish

The shops and cafes are buzzing, the beaches are packed and your mates are coming over for dinner.

It is some time in the not too distant future and life in Australia is buoyant, busy … “normal”.

There is toilet paper on the shelves, sport on the tele and people are back in the office.

Your staff and clients are happy and your business is in a strong position because you took important actions during the COVID-19 crisis to engage and support them.

This day is coming if we all stay safe, embrace working remotely and strive to meet the present needs of our clients.

This is not the time for businesses to take their foot off the gas, reminisce about the good old days and wait patiently for this pandemic to blow over. It is not the time for business as usual. Every business should be aiming for incremental improvements every day.

Staff should be encouraged and incentivised to pursue process improvements. Often, seemingly small changes can yield big results. That is innovation too.

In my experience, the only reason people shrink back and dwell on the past, whether it is an ex-girlfriend, old vice or outdated business processes, is because they lack vision and discipline. They cannot see a brighter future.

But the future of advice is glaringly bright.

The fundamental drivers underpinning demand for professional advice (mandated super, financial complexity, demographic change et al) remain intact, completely unaffected by COVID-19.

In fact, if there is ever a time for advisers to stand up and demonstrate their value, surely it must be now. For clients, a crisis may be deeply personal like a relationship breakdown, unemployment or the sudden death of a loved one. It may be economic like a stock market crash, recession or an old-fashioned global pandemic.

Whatever the nature, advisers need the right systems and processes to help their clients in times of need.

They also need to allow for interruptions to their routine so they can provide the type of practical, out-of-cycle support that so many clients want and highly value.

Often businesses miss opportunities because they are too focused on day-to-day operations. This leaves little room for creativity and interruption.

Lack of data is the other roadblock. In order to help a client through a personal crisis, advisers need to know exactly what’s going on in their lives.

Data can give them that insight. It can potentially show when a client stops making superannuation contributions or paying their life insurance premiums, which may signal a raft of possible issues. It can show when they start a family, get a mortgage, put their children in private school or receive a large windfall.

These major moments in life ideally require a Johnny-on-the-spot type proposition.

Right now, advisers do not need data to know that many of their clients are doing it tough. Some will be experiencing severe financial hardship. All will be grappling with uncertainty.

At this time, advisers should be run off their feet, like our fantastic healthcare professionals.

They may not be saving physical lives but they are essential workers on the frontline providing financial clarity, reassurance and guidance.

Experienced advisers have seen a stock market crash or two in their time. They have lived through recessions and come out the other side. While none will have experienced a global pandemic of this magnitude, they can still apply lessons from the past to instil confidence and hope.

Similarly, when healthcare professionals are not busy saving lives, they are spending time reassuring patients and guiding them to recovery, based on their experience.

People currently do not need a travel agent, hairdresser or personal trainer but many are looking for a level head and sound professional advice.

In addition to strategic advice, advisers need to provide tactical support. That may look like help drafting a letter to a client’s real estate agent requesting rent relief or assisting clients to apply to the ATO via the MyGov website for early access to super, additional income support or other COVID-19 government stimulus benefits. It may be offering a free educational webinar for the local community.

This type of service and advice is relatively inexpensive to provide because it arguably does not require a statement of advice.

If advice businesses, including licensees and related business partners, use this time to actively communicate with clients, start capturing more client data and integrate technology like video conferencing into their processes, they will emerge from isolation in a much stronger position.

So will the advice profession.

Read more of my articles on professional planner here

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