From the September 2013 issue of Investment Advisor • Subscribe!

Strategies for Serving Clients Online

Online service becomes especially important when working with the next generation of wealth

This can sometimes be a controversial topic: Should you encourage your clients to access account information online, communicate with your firm electronically or even take your relationship from being primarily face-to-face to more virtual?

I believe it is a good idea with most clients today, and it is even more critical as you serve the next generation of wealth. Some advisory firms do an excellent job serving their clients using virtual tools. Still, for many other firms it is a challenge to get clients online. Instead of swinging for a home run with your virtual strategy, let’s discuss a couple of singles and doubles that your firm can try for.

First, determine which of your clients are already using online channels, either through your website, your custodian’s website or other electronic channels. Clients who are already online are a great source of information on not only what they are doing online but, more importantly, why they use particular resources. They will help you understand what is valuable and even provide you with ideas on how to improve their experience. Ultimately, this feedback will also help you explain the benefits and features for the next client. If you need a place to start, ask your custodian which of your clients have online access for their accounts and electronic delivery of statements and other documents.

The next question involves understanding the primary online channels your clients use to connect with you and with their accounts and reports. Is there any consistency between the various products and channels?

For example, perhaps your clients can view their performance reports online, view their accounts directly through your custodian’s website and maybe even use an aggregation tool available through a product like eMoney. These are all great online resources, but clients may be confused if it is not clear how the information and reports from each provider differ. You could make matters worse if you leave it to your clients to figure out on their own. It will be your job to introduce each resource to your clients. The best practice is to have a specific online access strategy, with simple descriptions of the resources available and clear instructions about how to access them.

Furthermore, be watchful of your clients’ use of virtual tools that are not directly associated with your firm. The account aggregation site Mint.com is a good example. This site owned by Intuit has over 10 million users and offers a number of valuable tools and features.

However, keep in mind some of the details that are part of the terms of service. For example, Intuit uses customers’ information to show personalized sponsored ads. This may not be a big deal for most users, but it is important for you to at least be aware of. That way, when you receive a call from a client wanting to talk about a new investment, you might know where the idea came from.

Conducting webinars for existing and prospective clients is another easy way to strengthen your virtual strategy. This is especially important as you build your relationship with the next generation of wealth.

Too often I hear about an advisor losing a client because the primary owner passes away and they have no connection with the beneficiaries. Connecting with the next generation can be challenging, but a webinar might be able to help. Instead of scheduling individual in-person meetings or phone calls, consider hosting a group webinar tailored to this client type. There are a number of topics you could cover, and it is a fairly efficient use of your time. Record the webinar as well so it can be available for future use.

Enjoying moderate success with your virtual strategy should not be difficult. Sometimes it is simply a comfort issue, especially for advisors and client service staff members. Be careful to not assume this doesn’t matter to your clients. It does, and with a little effort you can make sure you have solutions to address your clients’ virtual requests and needs.

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