Each day fewer and fewer clients visit bank branches. The majority of transactions a client would normally complete in a branch can now be completed online. Whether it’s paying a bill, getting cash, or viewing a statement, it can all be done anywhere. Now clients can even deposit checks by using a mobile app, allowing them to snap a picture of the check with their smart phone and then throw the check away after the deposit is confirmed by the bank. This is not good news for advisors that are used to meeting with clients face-to-face. It’s even tougher for advisors at institutions where clients are spread over a large geographic area. As clients spend less time visiting branches, advisors must find new ways to set appointments and new ways to sell and process investments.
Making Appointments and Changing Sales Approach
The first hurdle to overcome is the challenge of setting appointments with clients that don’t visit branches. Typically branch staff refer clients to an investment advisor while they are making other onsite transactions. Less clients in the branch mean less in-branch referrals for the advisors. Marketing departments need to support and promote the investment programs with these changes in mind and consider additional ways investment programs can be featured on multiple pages of the financial institution’s website. Send texts and email regularly to clients. Leverage social media to create more awareness. Call centers provide another great avenue to bring business to advisors; train call center staff on an ongoing basis to look for opportunities to cross-sell investments.
Once the appointment is made, the selling process is quite different when the client is not sitting across your desk. You don’t have that personal contact. You can’t read their body language. A customer in front of you gives you clues on what interests or confuses them. You know if they are really listening to your recommendations and which of your ideas they really like.
Most likely you will be speaking with these remote clients over the phone. I strongly suggest using a landline. Cell phones generally do not have as clear connections, can be unstable and worst of all, drop calls. Speak clearly. Many people read lips while listening and since they cannot see you, you need to speak at a cadence that is neither too fast nor too slow for them to understand. Be a good listener. This is good advice for in-person meetings as well. Let the clients finish their thoughts before you respond. Write down notes as your client speaks and then revisit these points, once they are finished speaking.
Another way to overcome the barrier of not seeing your client is video conferencing. A free service like Skype can help you overcome many of the obstacles mentioned earlier, including the ability to have your client see your face and gestures, which can keep them more engaged in the conversation. However, before using a service like Skype, I suggest you ensure it is a service with which you and your client are familiar and comfortable. Also, make sure your client has the right equipment and Internet connection. You may have only an hour with your client and you would not want them to waste 20 minutes trying to connect to the Internet. When in doubt, stick to the phone.
Getting Paperwork Signed and Returned
And now, the most exciting part of any investment transaction: paperwork. We all know the painful process of having your client sign and initial hundreds of places on forms, even when they’re right in front of you. It’s going to be even more difficult when your client is hundreds of miles away. Time is of the essence, and you cannot allow any delay after your meeting for your client to get cold feet. The quickest way to get forms to your client is by email. If your bank has an email encryption service, this is a great option. You do not want to email confidential information if it is not encrypted. Fill out as many of the fields on the forms as possible and highlight areas that need initials or signatures. Include an overnight mailing service label and attach to the email with the forms. By following this process—if the client can print the forms, sign them and drop them off at an overnight mailing location—you could have signed paperwork back the next day.
Using a webinar service such as WebEx or Adobe Connect can help with the sales and paperwork processes as well. These services not only offer video conferencing, but allow you to share whatever is on your computer’s desktop with your client. These tools are great for sharing charts, graphs, and statements. You can also share forms and fill out data, allowing the client to view and confirm accurate information. Again, become an expert with these services before you use them with a client. Clients will likely have to download software for these services. Allow enough time for this to be accomplished, prior to your meeting.
If your broker-dealer has electronic signature services such as DocuSign or SIGNiX, getting paperwork processed can be even easier. These services send documents electronically to a client and then allows for the electronic signing and return of documents within minutes. Unfortunately many firms in the financial services industry have not adopted such technologies.
Ultimately, in every field and every industry changes are inevitable. Today’s rapidly changing technology is making these changes come even faster. There are associated challenges with the many benefits that these changes bring, creating what feels like a whole new world. Those of us—individuals and organizations alike—who are flexible and willing to adapt the quickest will reap the fruit of the benefits and not only outwit the challenges, but will become the successful industry leaders.
By Nick Contristan
VP, Transitions/Supervision, CFS and SPF