The Pandemic May Change the Way Financial Advisors Operate Forever

It's ushered in the necessity of a more human touch.

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By David Partain

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The global health crisis has forced business professionals across a myriad of industries to find new ways of doing business. But this goes beyond just developing new protocols or partnerships. It also involves how people connect with their customers. And nowhere is this more evident than within the financial investment industry, which this pandemic and its aftermath might change — for the better — forever.

Providing answers far beyond how to spend

Almost 30 years ago, when I first got into the business as a fixed income trader, I watched a lot of people dive into the industry to become bond traders, salesmen, or financial advisors. Most of the time, they were attracted to the work by equities. They wanted to look at balance sheets and evaluate them.

Put another way, the industry was all about data. Sure, advisors cared. We always have. But the expectation was that you would interact more with the numbers — interaction with the client wasn't what would drive the day.

Then, in 2008, the recession hit, and everything changed. Suddenly, the professionals who were so used to evaluating information had to hold people's hands. They had to evaluate individuals, to get to know them beyond what was just on paper. That was a massive shift.

Today, COVID-19 is forcing financial advisors to shift again in a similar way. With unemployment and layoff numbers continuing to hit unprecedented levels, and markets playing yo-yo even as the US slowly starts to move toward recovery, people naturally are worried about their assets. The question often isn't even how to make money but just how to stay afloat and manage investments so they don't disappear. Risk mitigation is the key point.

Related: COVID-19 And the Resulting Shift In Marketing Trends

But financial clients aren't just looking at their investments. They're trying to navigate how to teach their kids through the rest of the school year, how to turn their home into an office, how long it will take to recover, and all kinds of other things. They worry about staying healthy, how to cope with isolation, and in the worst-case scenarios, how to deal with the death of people they love. It's heavy. It's complex. And there often aren't any one-size-fits-all answers.

In short, financial clients aren't just looking for tips about a great stock or ways to hedge an account. They need much more support than that. And as financial advisors, we have to get to know them and give advice not just on how to spend, but how to live — right now and going forward.

We can use technology while showing the next generation what really counts

Technology has the potential to help financial advisors serve their clients better in these regards. This doesn't mean just shifting to different software or types of spreadsheets. It means, for example, learning to use tools like Zoom, virtual meetings, and digital happy hours to reach out on a deeper level.

The way financial advisors and their clients use technology going forward has a huge potential to influence the next generation, who is set to inherit today's wealth. For example, many young people have internalized the idea that technology can not only give answers but is the answer to just about everything. They might look at what their parents are doing through this pandemic and realize that they were able to get through this hard time because financial advisors brought a human touch into the equation. This next generation will see that a portfolio is more than just a sum of dollars and cents — but that it actually involves feelings, desires, passions, and goals. A good portfolio can help fund all these things, but it can't replace the life you can lead if you have someone you trust in charge of those assets.

Related: Technology As the Way Forward: The New Normal

The shift to deeper connection benefits everyone

Being a financial advisor is always going to have you put your nose to the books to a certain degree. That's the nature of the job. But today, perhaps even more than we did in 2008, we have a wonderful opportunity to create relationships with clients that are much more personal and, subsequently, more meaningful and financially successful.

What's more, the business world has become increasingly comfortable with the ideas of authenticity and transparency. Potential clients are looking to hire people who can clarify their sense of purpose and be honest about who they are and what has to happen. You can still dive deep into your clients' balance sheets while making your larger vlaues known.

The pandemic will end, but the need to be seen, heard and valued will not

Eventually, the COVID-19 pandemic will subside. And as we begin to work through recovery, we must realize that we have a choice. We can either shift back, and regress to the old, data-centric way of operating, or we can accept the new, holistic standard of financial advice that COVID-19 brought to the fore.

To make that decision, we just have to ask ourselves whether people value deep connection only in times of crisis. The answer is no — people always want to be seen, heard, and valued. Crises merely magnify this desire.

So, while COVID-19 may be the catalyst, the shift to a more personal style of financial advising is a beneficial change. It will continue to bring advantages not just in the here and now but through recovery and well into the future. The more you grab hold of the technology available to you and utilize it to its fullest to make connections, the more secure you'll help your clients feel, both inside and outside of their accounts. And by accepting this shift now, it will feel much more natural to step up the next time a crisis hits.

Related: 5 Signs It's Time to Change Your Financial Advisor

David Partain

Entrepreneur Leadership Network Contributor

CMO of FlexShares

David Partain is SVP of Northern Trust and CMO of their subsidiary, FlexShares Exchange Traded Funds. He has over 15 years of marketing, sales and finance expertise and was named one of the "20 Rising Stars in Finance" by the Gramercy Institute.

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