Most of our clients in the Pacific Northwest prefer to meet with us in the Norton Building, our HQ in downtown Seattle since 1967. They like seeing Mount Rainier looming on the horizon, personally connecting with each member of their LNWM advisory team, and discussing new plans or changing circumstances face-to-face.
These client meetings, which tend to happen once a quarter, are a ritual that we prepare for extensively and look forward to. But during Covid-19, when some of our clients may be in a high-risk category, in-person meetings are not happening. Instead, we are meeting with all clients remotely, mainly using video conferencing for important one-on-one meetings, with email and phone calls for routine communications.
While we were already using video conferencing for clients in other parts of the US and abroad, the new normal now includes video conferencing for all. Being unable to talk face-to-face during one of the most volatile market periods in history has presented a challenge for some. But what I have found, along with many of my colleagues, is that teleconferencing has some surprising positives, and therefore more of our clients might opt to do more meetings online even after Covid-19 subsides.
More focused, open-ended discussions. There are fewer distractions when teleconferencing as everyone is focused on the screen. So we tend to get through our agenda items faster, while also presenting more visuals (charts and datasets). This leaves more time to talk about other related topics. And it is those non-agenda items that allow us to explore with clients new questions and concerns they may have.
More personal. We get to see our clients in their home environment, if they choose to let us see (they can also opt to obscure all backgrounds through the teleconference program.) And many clients are comfortable inviting us into their homes through the computer since we have been working with many of them for decades. We also get to see more of the family over time. And if the client wants, we invite older children and young adults to listen in. We are also connecting more with clients who are alone during quarantine. Just hearing a friendly voice and seeing one another helps reduce loneliness and makes us all feel more connected.
Easy. With basic equipment like a laptop or a smart phone, video conferencing is surprisingly easy. With a little practice, even the most technically challenged can be successful. We send out instructions and offer personal guidance to get set up. Having gone through one or two video calls to get the bugs worked out, most clients tend to prefer talking through video.
Comfortable. No need to fight traffic to come drive to LNWM offices, park and wait in the lobby. Clients can find out how their portfolios are performing, whether their financial plan is on track, and what we suggest for next steps — all from their sofa or kitchen table.
A New Tool
Nothing can replace in-person meetings for maintaining relationships and comfort levels. Face-to-face conversations tend to have better cadence, with the opportunity to be clearer. Also there’s no substitute for sharing a handshake or a hug. We can see clients’ expressions and physical movements (how is that knee after surgery?) and give them articles or books to take home.
However, the pluses of teleconferencing mean we will likely keep doing more of this if clients want to continue. We are already hosting webinars open to all clients on a variety of topics – from real estate to family dynamics. More periodic check-ins online, as well as in-person meetings, could be the way we do business in the future. For us here at LNWM, that is a big plus. Because we offer a lot of different expertise to clients (investments, planning, trusts and estate), teleconferencing allows us to update each client on different aspects of their finances and wealth plan more often. And I think that is a win-win for all of us.