It has been more than a year since the Financial Conduct Authority said it expected advisers to support clients online or over the phone, warning they should not meet face to face.
Fast forward 12 months, many clients have embraced remote advice. A March survey of almost 1,000 clients by Quilter Private Client Advisers found 47 per cent would prefer remote advice.
The take-up of video calls amid restrictions on physical meetings has also become an opportunity for some to reach new clients further afield.
But with so-called ‘freedom day’ in England currently scheduled for July 19 – marking the final stage of lockdown easing – will clients expect in-person meetings to become the default once more?
David Ryder, head of proposition at Paradigm Consulting, highlights the importance of providing choice to clients.
Ryder says: “For example, certain clients may place a strong emotional value on the money they are looking to invest – this could be an inheritance, for example – and such clients may value due attention from their adviser, which may be delivered more effectively face to face.”
He adds: “There is a school of thought currently that adviser firms who do not offer a remote advice service may not appear as flexible or understanding of a client’s needs and therefore could lose advantage in the advice marketplace.”
Expectations over service via video calls may also go beyond ‘making the best of it’ when lockdown ends. Paul Young, head of business consultancy at Quilter Financial Planning, warns care needs to be taken that digital is not seen as the “poor cousin" of advice.
Young says: “While in-person advice will still continue to be key, it will be increasingly important that advisers develop the skills needed to build the same level of trust with new clients in a remote or hybrid environment, effectively making it feel face to face.”
An example of how this can be achieved is the adviser sending a biography with a headshot to the client before meeting, according to Young.
He adds: “If using headphones, explain why. For example, ‘I want to reassure you that no one else can hear our chat’. Or if not, again explain why, eg. 'I want to try to make this meeting as ‘in-person’ as possible, but rest assured no one can hear us at my end – is that the same for you at your end?’”
Not for everyone
But Paradigm Consulting’s Ryder warns a hybrid version may not work for all companies: “Careful consideration needs to be given to a firm’s client-bank demographic and the advice lines they are involved in.
“Evidence suggests that mortgage and protection advice, due to often being transactional in nature, is more likely to be acceptable to clients as a remote service.”
In May, brokerage Just Mortgages said it would give advisers with at least two years’ experience the option to work from home even when lockdown ends.