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If your business is to thrive, you will have to advise remotely

Alison Steed

Alison Steed

Advisers working from home could face a visit to their residential address from the Financial Conduct Authority, thanks to the increase in hybrid working patterns, where some time is spent in the office while the rest is spent working from home.

The Covid-19 pandemic created a new work/life balance for most of us, which is something we are reluctant to give up. So there is a move towards at least hybrid working for advisers and other staff within advisory companies.

As it turns out, not only do some clients prefer to speak to their adviser over a Zoom or other online video calling service, but it can actually help advisers be more productive without needing to drive long distances to see clients. It saves clients time too.

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Quilter, for example, found that nearly half of clients prefer remote advice – something that is even more popular among younger clients. If your business wants to thrive and grow by attracting younger clients, dealing with advice remotely is essential.

Of course, some clients will always prefer to see you in person, but changing working methods can create savings not just in the practical use of fuel, but may also result in no longer needing such a large office space, which can lead to additional savings. In the current climate, with higher fuel costs and energy prices, this could be a benefit that helps your business boost its bottom line.

However, unlike many industries that have found it relatively simple to move to a home-working environment, there are regulatory considerations for advisers to think about, and that can be more complex to manage if you do not have all members of staff in a single office to help with oversight.

The FCA has outlined very clearly that it has the powers to visit anywhere that regulated business is being undertaken. To be honest, the one thing this reminded me of when I read it was the need for professional athletes to always let the relevant anti-doping organisation know exactly where they are so they can be tested at any time.

While I am sure – I think – that the FCA is not expecting advisers to go to those lengths, they have been very clear that they expect advisers to maintain the same regulatory standards for home working as they would at an office.

Really, you cannot argue with this. The protection of clients has to be paramount when it comes to financial advice, and I do not think any adviser worth their salt would disagree with that.

So it is vital that the systems advisers use to deal with client advice and colleague communication when staff are working from home are strong and secure enough to cope with the change in the physical nature of the workplace.

The other thing to bear in mind is that because an FCA visit can occur at any place regulated business is conducted, anyone else who lives in the house – husband, wife, children, parents, roommates – could also be affected by a visit, so you should let the people you live with know if you are working from home for any period of time that a visit could occur. Otherwise it could come as a nasty shock.