Businesswoman conducting a vedeo conference (Photo: Shutterstock)

With many advisors forced to work remotely amid the COVID-19 pandemic, many of them for the first time, there are several important steps that advisory firms can take — if they haven’t already — to deploy an effective virtual environment and to “thrive,” according to TD Ameritrade Institutional executives.

“Working virtually is something many of us have done” already, Craig Cintron, senior manager of institutional consulting at the firm, said Wednesday during the webcast “Moving Client Engagement Virtual.”

But he asked: “Have you thought about what the impact that working remotely will have on your associates, your clients and your business? Have you spoken with your clients about engaging with them remotely? Are they comfortable? Are you and your teams comfortable?”

Those are all considerations advisors should be asking before adopting a virtual environment within their firms, he said. However, many firms may have been forced into shifting abruptly to remote work and had to “fast track some of these decisions,” he conceded.

“The key is to embrace the change,” he said, adding: “The client experience needs to evolve and adapt as your client expectations are changed by their environments. It all starts with the associative experience and if you take care of your associates, they will take care of clients.”

The Importance of Video

As part of a recent Forbes survey, 95% of more than 300 senior executives polled said video communications will have a positive impact on performance and that “video creates a greater sense of trust.” That is “really good news because a lot of advisors were already starting to incorporate a virtual option for their associates and some are learning to do it on the fly,” Cintron said.

That applies to advisors’ clients also, he said, noting: “They still want to see you and having a video option to do so helps you continue to serve them and deepen the relationship.”

However, Cintron also noted that tech and hardware also creates challenges, especially when it comes to remote work. A firm’s staff must have the correct hardware to do their jobs, including webcams and computers, and they must have the ability to run computer programs and stream video at the same time, he noted.

Cybersecurity is also important, so it is always best to “not use a public hotspot like the ones provided by large cable companies or from other local businesses,” he said, noting “they are not password-protected.” It is also best to have separate machines to access work systems, especially if computing devices are shared with others at home, he said.

Remote Work Benefits

As many advisors already know, there are some obvious benefits to working from home. “Perhaps you can decrease your office space needs” and even your equipment needs by keeping remote work as an option, Cintron pointed out. Advisory firms can then use the money saved to “increase your virtual abilities,” he said.

Cintron was also the latest industry executive to point out that one major potential benefit to allowing remote work, even after this crisis ends, is that it may “help you recruit and retain associates locally and around the country that maybe you didn’t have access to before.” It could also help attract clients from outside the local area, he said.

Time that team members save by not commuting to the office each day can instead be spent on valuable alternative tasks including getting fully ready for the workday, listening to podcasts or getting the kids ready for virtual schoolwork, he noted.

More Suggestions

“From an expectations perspective, working remote should certainly be discussed with associates,” according to Cintron. “Those conversations and expectations should be reviewed and updated regularly as the business shifts.”

Although work needs to be done, those running advisory firms should be sympathetic to the challenges that associates face during this crisis, he noted. “You may find some of your staff and you individually thrive at different times during the day, or you may need time to care for children” and the elderly, so “the key here is to promote flexibility,” he said.

Team collaboration can be encouraged by setting up remote ways to duplicate what had normally been done to foster teamwork in the office. Cintron’s TD team had already been working virtually for a long time, but it has “grown a lot closer over the past five or six weeks, and all we’ve done is make a few tweaks,” he said. As examples, although it always had virtual team meetings on Mondays, it recently added virtual water cooler conversations on Thursdays with no set agenda and added virtual happy hours once or twice a month, he noted.

One more suggestion from him: It is best for everybody to maintain their routine even while working remotely, he said.

Todd McMullen, vice president of technology consulting, went on to tell advisory firms that a company website “absolutely needs to be mobile-friendly,” especially now when everybody is working remotely and may be using their smartphones and tablets to access websites rather than their PCs, he noted.

Advisory firms also need to use search engine optimization to drive traffic to their websites, he said, adding social networks are also important. Advisors also should not be afraid to post funny pictures of colleagues, family members and pets on their social media pages, he said, noting he was recently told by one firm that such photos generated high click-through rates to the firm’s website.

It is also important to speak to clients and prospective clients to find out which platforms they spend their time using, and “that’s where you need to be focusing your effort,” he said.

Adding a blog or a video newsletter or other relevant content to a firm’s website can also help boost Internet search rankings significantly, he noted.

He supplied several other virtual meeting tips for advisors: Set up your virtual office in a way that is comfortable and has good lighting; have an agenda; try to schedule meetings five minutes after the hour or end meetings five minutes before the top of the hour to have a few extra minutes between meetings to grab a snack or drink; dial or click into the meeting early to overcome any technical issues; try to avoid meetings too early or too late in the day that can interfere with the personal lives of clients; do not put the phone on hold during a meeting to take other calls; and always try to include web links and dial-in information when sending out meeting information to help those clients who are less tech-savvy.

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