Can advisors maintain client relationships if distance makes it impossible for the client to drop by the office or come in conveniently for regular meetings? According to some advisors, it’s not only possible; it’s easy with the right combination of communications methods.

Going online

Rick Kahler, MS, CFP, president of Kahler Financial Group, Rapid City, S.D., relies on:

  • GoToMeeting, an online conference service that offers integrated desktop sharing and audio.
  • Skype video-conferencing in conjunction with GoToMeeting.
  • Also, his firm’s website is interactive and gives access to the client portal, budgeting software, brokerage accounts and forms.
  • Kahler says he works best with clients who have at least a basic mastery of computers and Internet usage. The technology-centered approach works: Kahler says client feedback has been positive and his client-attrition rate is low.

Constance Stone, CFP, ATP, president of Stepping Stone Financial Inc., Chagrin Falls, Ohio, uses:

  • Web conferencing with both local and out-of-town clients. The arrangement saves clients driving time to her office, she says.
  • She also uses the usual mix of phone conferences, e-mail and regular mail when needed.

Blending Methods

Tom Meyer, president of Meyer Capital Group, Marlton, N.J., recognizes the competitive challenge created when clients move. The long-distance communication methods Meyer uses depend on the size of the client’s account and the client’s preferred communication methods.

  • He uses a combination of travel, e-mail, phone calls and regular mail.
  • For clients who prefer to see him during a call, Meyer uses Skype video conferencing with Mikogo for screen sharing. That combination allows clients to see Meyer and a visual presentation simultaneously.
  • Clients generally find it easy to set up video conferencing on their systems. “A client who moved out to Arizona and just e-mailed me, ‘I’ve signed up for Skype, and I’ve ordered a camera for video,’” Meyer says. Piece of cake.

Ted Feight, CFP, owner of Creative Financial Design, Lansing, Mich., also uses multiple communication methods.

  • For large clients, he travels to the client’s location.
  • With smaller clients, he offers to hold regular meetings online via GoToMeeting.
  • Not all clients are computer-savvy at first, so Feight helps his clients set up their computers and Internet services. That includes showing the clients how to use Facebook, so they can use social media with their children and grandchildren.
  • Feight is even considering a way to work online with clients who don’t have a computer. His firm preloads a computer with the necessary software, and then ships it to the client. After the conference, the client calls a delivery service to retrieve the computer.

The communication technologies these advisors are using are inexpensive and usually fairly easy to install. Many computers now come equipped with video cameras and microphones, so clients don’t have to hassle with the set-up. Skype and its competitors offer a mix of free and low-cost services. Video-calling on handheld devices, such as Apple’s iPhone 4, could spur greater adoption of video-conferencing. The cost of online meeting and desktop-sharing services varies, but the free services, such as Mikogo, may be sufficient for your needs.

A word of caution: Test the communication technologies with a few users before announcing their availability to all clients. In this writer’s experience, the quality of desktop-computer video conferences and audio calls has ranged from acceptable to horrible. You don’t want to build client expectations and then have the technology fail to deliver.