Opinion  

Integrating hybrid services could transform the advice industry

Ben Goss

Ben Goss

After the long slog of the pandemic, we were hoping we would be able to welcome some of our clients in person at our annual conference last week.

In fact, we had planned our first ever hybrid conference, with attendees joining us in London and more participating remotely from their homes and offices. 

But as we have learnt repeatedly over the past couple of years, the virus has no respect for our plans. When Omicron hit and the government confirmed the extension of plan B measures in early January, we reluctantly took the decision to move the whole thing online. 

Fortunately, another thing that has happened over the past couple of years is that technology has made advances that might otherwise have taken a decade. 

I cannot deny that the experience of speaking on stage in an almost empty auditorium was a strange one. But, thanks to innovations made by our virtual event partner, many of the small but vital interactions that delegates experience when they attend conferences in person were still possible. Almost four times as many delegates attended online as could have been accommodated in the venue. 

The platform allowed attendees to connect and network with each other throughout the day, in large groups and small. They were able to talk to representatives on stands, and have private one-on-one chats with each other. 

We were not surprised that our clients embraced these opportunities because throughout the pandemic people have shown their willingness and flexibility to adopt technology that helps them to feel more connected. 

According to Ofcom, 33mn people – or more than half the adult population – used video calling services like Zoom, Microsoft Teams and Skype in March 2021 – an astonishing leap from just 8mn in January 2020. And that figure does not capture users of more informal services such as FaceTime and WhatsApp video calling. 

Adoption of video has surged across generations. The proportion of over 65s who made at least one video call each week jumped from just 22 per cent in February 2020 to 61 per cent by May 2020. At the other end of the spectrum, more than three quarters of children aged 8 to 15 now use video weekly to speak to friends or grandparents. 

From banking and accountancy to medical and veterinary consultation – and including, of course, financial advice – many professions that have formerly relied on face-to-face engagement are being transformed by the use of video. 

This has the potential to be revolutionary for our industry – and for those in need of advice. The Financial Conduct Authority wants fewer people with £10,000 or more to hold their savings in cash, and recognises the important role that advisers have to play in achieving this ambition.

The Treasury has set out the ambition for anyone who wants financial advice or guidance to be able to access it. By making it faster, cheaper and easier to see clients, video gets us closer to that goal.