For many advisors, the need for an online strategy was not top-of-mind until the last couple of years. You may not have placed much value on giving your clients online access to their accounts and their financial information. This was not necessarily a bad decision because it’s possible that a majority of your clients weren’t requesting to view their financial information online. Of course, just a few years ago the challenge of getting online was likely one of the more significant detriments. You probably remember the slowness of Internet connections, all the compatibility issues, and the lack of experience with new (let alone cutting-edge) technology. Today, it is easy to access and use the Internet. We have computers, smart phones, iPads, netbooks—and this is just the beginning. The trend is clear, and even if today you only have a handful of clients asking questions about online access to their information, it is a safe bet that this group will continue to grow.
Given this environment, you might be thinking, “What is the big deal? It is not that hard for my clients to access their accounts through my custodian’s system.” However, it’s important for advisors to have a strategy for introducing their clients to a safe, informative and productive online channel. By doing so, you can provide better service, probably reducing your workload, and you should not be surprised to discover you have more clients using online channels than you expected.
One of the first areas to address is to make sure that you and your staff are very familiar with the online systems you offer. Don’t make the mistake of only having one person on your staff who truly understands the features and information available. Set up accounts that your staff can use to log in and access the information just like a client would do. For example, perhaps you can set up a firm account on your custodian system with just enough assets and activity to demonstrate the tools and features available. In addition, remember to “test” common error messages like incorrect user ID or password. It will go a long way when you are trying to help a client if you are already familiar with the site navigation, any error messages and, more importantly, the appropriate steps to resolve the problem.
Another important area of your online strategy is to be specific and creative in how you introduce the solution to each client. If your strategy is to provide a letter detailing how to use the online system and that’s all, I wouldn’t expect great success. You should consider offering a demo of the online system as part of your new client introduction process. You can conduct this in your office or, even better, (depending on the client) utilizing a service like GoToMeeting where your client can view the online system through their own computer as you usher them through the system and its features. This solves the problem of a client getting a demo in your office and then going home and being frustrated because they can’t get it to work with their own computer. I would also recommend that any demo (whether in person or using GoToMeeting) should be less than 30 minutes. Too much detail and information in a demo invariably leads to confusion and, of course, frustration.
Even if a majority of your clients are not interested in viewing their accounts online, it is better to have a strategy in place than to just let it happen.