At this juncture in the global fight with COVID-19, it’s no longer hyperbole to suggest that the novel coronavirus has already had as big an impact on modern society as few things in recent history — and that impact is only just beginning to take shape. In a mere matter of weeks, both the physical health and the economic lifeline — employment — for quite literally millions of people across the globe have been decimated (with the worst yet to come, by most accounts).
While each of us grapples with the very real effect COVID-19 is having on our families and our communities, we as advisers need to pull ourselves away from the minute-by-minute news cycle and influx of client calls to ponder a question that seems still far off: What does this all look like when it’s behind us? More specifically, what does our industry look like?
For those who are in the final innings of their careers, these questions are important, but not quite as relevant they are for advisers whose days ahead still outnumber those in the rearview mirror. As next gen advisers, we have to start thinking about this.
What will the other side look like in terms of how we engage, support, and advise clients? What will this mean for our teams? Our working styles? Which trends will accelerate and which may decelerate? We owe it to ourselves as an industry and as advisers to begin the challenging process of thinking about how we ensure that, despite all the pain that is likely still ahead, we come out stronger on the other side, for not only our clients’ sake, but for our teams and our communities.
Digital client relationships
Look no further than the rapid growth of the XY Planning Network for proof that even pre-COVID-19, advisers, especially younger advisers, were increasingly building businesses centered around a client/adviser relationship that was entirely location-independent and digital.
With COVID-19 now forcing entire industries to work from home, it’s not hard to imagine that consumers will increasingly become comfortable with — and equipped for, if they’re not already — meeting their adviser in a digital setting. In fact, some may even come to prefer it after getting comfortable with the ease of meeting with their adviser digitally during our current (and necessary) forced beta test.
If you buy into the assumption that the digital adviser relationship is likely to keep pace at worst and accelerate at best, the questions then become (especially for next gen advisers), what are the downstream implications of an increasingly digital advisory landscape and what can we do about it in the weeks and months ahead?
Looking at it from another perspective, if advisers are no longer competing against a sea of sameness just in their zip code, but instead across the country, what does that mean for differentiating in an already overcrowded space? Does carving out a niche become more important? What digital infrastructure must be built to best serve clients in an increasingly digital landscape? How will acquiring new clients change?
To suggest that consumers — of all ages — are likely to become increasingly comfortable engaging with advisers digitally given our current required beta test is likely stating the obvious. What isn’t obvious are some of the other considerations that are likely to be impacted, such as: • How to market in a world where consumers are entirely open to meeting and engaging a digital adviser? • What will a world of clients engaging more digitally mean for recruiting top adviser talent? For building, managing, and leading teams? • What technology infrastructure is needed to finally completely digitize the client-adviser ecosystem?
There’s certainly much debate to be had about the pace of change that COVID-19 will have on our businesses and our industry, and many are sure to fall on different sides of the coin. But the key in all of this, despite all the critical work that lies ahead in helping guide clients through these unimaginably difficult times, is to start thinking about what the other side might look like, and how we as an industry begin positioning our businesses to better serve clients both through the current crisis and after it.
Matt Cosgriff is wealth management group leader at