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Edward Jones Advisor: How New Tech Has Boosted Client Service During Pandemic

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Digital tools that Edward Jones has been rolling out over the past few months are already helping advisors and clients overcome challenges, including those posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Alyssa Jennings, a financial advisor at the firm.

The Virtual Business Enablement Tools were developed as part of the $500 million that Frank LaQuinta, principal and chief information officer at Edward Jones, said the firm has invested in its overall digital strategy.

Some of the tools “we’ve been able to roll out over the last few months has been particularly useful as we’ve pivoted to this majority virtual environment,” Jennings said.

The two tools she said have proven to be especially useful so far are My Priorities, a gamification tool that allows clients and prospective clients to rank their priorities, and Webinar Hub. The latter provides “a way that I can invite clients” to virtual webinars put on by the company’s home office, she noted.

My Priorities: The Starting Point

Edward Jones advisors have “been able to continue to see our clients face-to-face” thanks to Zoom and other video conferencing platforms, and “we’ve been able to deepen the conversations” with clients via tools including My Priorities that clients can access before they speak, she said.

My Priorities, which rolled out June 29 and is available to all 19,000-plus Edward Jones financial advisors, includes a quiz in which clients can “communicate to us what’s most important to them on their time frame in a way that is the most accessible to them right now,” she said.

“And then when we are able to talk face-to-face” in person “or via Zoom or whatever the case may be… we’re able to get deeper into the conversation faster and focus really on what’s important to them,” she noted, adding it “really enhances the experience.”

As an example, Jennings talked about a client couple in which the husband cited his dream home “at the top of the list” of his priorities after answering the tool’s questionnaire. His wife indicated she was surprised. But he explained that, for him, a dream house would be a home “on a pond with some property that the grandkids came to all the time” and that would help add to all the “family memories they were building.”

That “allowed us to start planning for building that dream home,” and Jennings built it into the overall financial plan for the couple, she said. Without that, “it may have been years before we got to the point” in which it came out that the home “was the most important thing to him,” she said.

My Priorities “doesn’t replace the conversation” — it just provides a “starting point for us as advisors [and] it helps us narrow down what’s really important to our clients in a way that is approachable for them.”

Webinar Hub Helps Communicate With Clients

Webinar Hub, meanwhile, has been “very useful in this pandemic time period,” Jennings said, explaining it provides an easy “way that I can invite clients” to virtual webinars put on by the company’s home office.

“Clients have appreciated the constant communication, being able to hear that information as it comes out, and then also we’re able to follow up afterwards and have deeper conversations about what’s happening in the market” as a result of content in the webinars, she said.

Before the pandemic, Edward Jones ran webinars only periodically, but the firm started running them consistently in early April — at first biweekly and then monthly, she said. “They were really important” during the early days of the pandemic, she added.

One webinar topic during the pandemic was the economic outlook and what if you or somebody in your family loses a job, and an upcoming webinar will be on planning for education expenses, she said, adding that the firm plans to continue holding webinars monthly.

Webinars are also a great way for clients to introduce people they know to Edward Jones advisors, she said, noting some people may be hesitant to travel to one of the company’s offices initially, but may become more comfortable after getting to know the company and its advisors via the webinars.

Pandemic Challenges

While the tools have helped overcome the challenge of not being able to meet in person with clients, there are other challenges created by COVID-19 that are much harder to overcome, she noted.

Clients were more concerned at the start of the pandemic about their personal situations, including employment and health, than they were their portfolios, she noted. “At the beginning, it was ‘can you find toilet paper?’” she recalled with a laugh.

However, she has clients whose family members contracted the virus. One of her clients had a close family member who was in the hospital with COVID-19 for a few weeks. Other clients  faced layoffs and furloughs during the July-August period, while others have seen their work hours reduced and their salaries decline since the start of the pandemic, she said.

There is just a lot of uncertainty, she said, noting some clients are debating whether to keep jobs with reduced hours and pay or try to find different ones. Clients who own restaurants were OK for now but concerned about the fall and winter without outdoor dining, she added.

“The thing that hits me every day right now with our clients is how much they’re trying to hold onto — how much they’re juggling,” she said, adding: “The basket’s not big enough to hold everything they’re being asked to hold right now. And I can’t solve it all. But I can be an ear for it.”