Humans are social animals. We thrive in communities with the support and knowledge that communication brings. It’s never been easier to stay connected to each other with smart phones, tablets, apps and social media. From toddler to grandparent, we all use them.

But are these technologies a good substitute for face-to-face contact when trying to address crucial conversations? Well, right now, that’s all we have.

The COVID-19 pandemic (Coronavirus) has forced the country into lock down. Businesses and families are having to pivot and adapt to communicating primarily in the digital landscape.

For those on the cusp of or in retirement, the current market conditions are frightening. This segment of the population rightly have fears, concerns and a multitude of questions. They need assurance, empathy, clear conversation and leadership.

Matthew Rady, CEO, Allianz Retire+, says “Like other businesses around the world, we’ve had to pivot rapidly. We’ve acted decisively and enacted a remote working policy to both protect our people and ensure we can continue to support the financial advice community and their clients.”

“We’ve been having our regular meetings via phone or video conference. Everyone’s working hard to keep advisers up to speed with product information, client education material and webinars to ensure they have everything they need for client meetings.”

Is a virtual hug or handshake good enough?

Face-to-face meetings are unlikely for the immediate future. For the time being, we all need to focus on positive interaction through video conferencing platforms such as WebEx and Zoom or video calls through Skype or Facetime. The great (and easy) thing about communicating via video conferencing is that it still follows all the same principles of effective face-to-face business communication.

  • Be prepared, outline your main points and outcomes
  • Schedule the time, distribute an agenda and pre-reading
  • Plan how you will switch from video and to screen sharing a presentation
  • Keep the slides brief, five bullet points and use a variety of graphs/diagrams
  • Tailor language to your client understanding and circumstances
  • Modulate the message with relevant stories, case studies and analogies
  • Ensure you are in a quiet, distraction-free space
  • Be on time and avoid interruption from other devices
  • Keep the conversation clear, on track and to the point
  • Build rapport and engagement by using the word ‘you’
  • Ask questions and listen intently to responses
  • When answering questions, use your client’s name

But, this is new territory for many of us. So, spend time preparing. Experiment and try new things. Be honest and personable. Ask your clients for feedback, stay positive and we’ll all be better virtual communicators.

Overcome conversation barriers and enhance trust

Good conversation requires presence, trust and focus. It’s an exchange of ideas, emotions, listening and understanding. If the conversation occurs face to face or via video conferencing, body language and eye contact will also play a part in participants gaining trust and staying engaged.

The Coronavirus has deeply affected clients in the retirement risk zone, creating anxiety that can overrule rational thinking. Clients may be led by fear with preconceived views on a course of action.

As advisers, you need to be able to quickly overcome these obstacles, treading carefully, while showing empathy and respect by asking questions that go to the heart of their hopes and fears. Open up the conversation by asking about:

  • how they feel right now (emotionally and psychologically)
  • family, their health and current situation (support networks, dependants)
  • what they know about the market conditions (impact on their portfolio), and
  • their future plans (focussed on the positives)

Listening is the most important part of a conversation. Allow time and pauses for clients to speak. Respond by reflecting on your understanding of their situation to nurture trust. Right now, clients want to be heard, understood and supported.

Some conversations can be taxing or expose you to a client’s emotional stress. It’s never easy to stay calm and carry on however it’s important you do. When under pressure or challenged by a client, ‘down-regulate’ your stress response by regulating breathing, so you can be present during conversations.

During these challenging times, asking the right questions and listening intently will increase your understanding of your clients’ revised needs and primary concerns. By doing so, you’ll build deeper relationships and trust. Above all, you will be able to tailor your advice and messages to be more relevant and engaging.

Understanding retirees and coaching them to a better retirement

The average client approaching retirement or retiree is anything but average. On the contrary, they are a diverse range of individuals with hopes and fears. Some are excited by retirement while others are nervous. Some are exuberant and social, while others are shy and retiring. Right now, all retirees are facing a range of challenges to their health, lifestyle and future finances. This presents an opportunity for advisers to play a crucial role as a coach, to help clients think about retirement, life style and identity.

Older Australians are now learning to cope with time isolated at home, away from family, friends and loss of activities or routine. They need support and guidance. Above all, they need to be asked the question, ‘How are you coping?’

Advisers need to open up and maintain a line of communication via technology. Adopt the key coaching skill of listening. And try not to jump to solution (technical) mode.

Understand what makes your client feel fulfilled, gives them meaning and purpose. Retirement is different for everyone. The bridge from working life to retirement can be complex for some people. They need to understand:

  • How they will replace routine?
  • What validates them?
  • What loss of identity they might face?
  • What brings meaning to their life?

There’s no prospect of travel in the immediate future or access to gyms, sporting clubs, shopping centres, or community activities. With plenty of time on their hands, their wings have been clipped. The social aspects of travel and participation in the community are good for mobility, physical and mental health. Advisers can provide a positive focus on future retirement objectives and encourage clients consider a diverse range of retirement activities.

Loneliness, boredom and frustration can be an issue. A 24-hour news cycle, rumour and misinformation are difficult to follow with an additional layer of concern about the impact of Coronavirus on their lifestyle and retirement savings. This segment of the population are fearful of loss and are struggling to make sense of conflicting information. They are desperate for answers, looking for someone/something they can trust and good advice.  If clients are venting, listen carefully and ask open ended questions.

There’s no specific menu for retirement. You need to build a bridge from present day to retirement by asking your clients the right questions. By honing your coaching skills you’ll gain invaluable insight on your clients’ retirement objectives. You’ll build deeper relationships and through the generosity of spirit you’ll generate happiness.

Right now, Advisers have an opportunity to build deeper relationships. As a highly trusted source of advice and mentor, you’ll need to provide credible information and support to help clients understand and cope with volatility and uncertainty. Your clients need to be encouraged not to focus on daily market performance, and they need strategies that complement volatile markets. Above all you need to provide your clients with counsel. Be a sounding  board. Be flexible, understanding, empathetic and lead them through this challenging time.

As a financial adviser you can open up a crucial conversation with a client and exchange ideas on how the right portfolio can deliver retirement income, now and into the future. Allianz Retire+ can help you navigate these crucial conversations and provide you with the tools and information you need to create effective retirement portfolios.

This material is issued by Allianz Australia Life Insurance Limited, ABN 27 076 033 782, AFSL 296559 (Allianz Retire+). Allianz Retire+ is a registered business name of Allianz Australia Life Insurance Limited. This information is current as at April 2020 unless otherwise specified. This information has been prepared specifically for authorised financial advisers in Australia, and is not intended for retail investors. It does not take account of any person’s objectives, financial situation or needs. Before acting on anything contained in this material, you should consider the appropriateness of the information received, having regard to your objectives, financial situation and needs. Past performance is not a reliable indicator of future performance. No person should rely on the content of this material or act on the basis of anything stated in this material. Allianz Retire+ and its related entities, agents or employees do not accept any liability for any loss arising whether directly or indirectly from any use of this material. Allianz Australia Life Insurance Limited is the issuer of Future Safe. Prior to making an investment decision, investors should consider the relevant Product Disclosure Statement (PDS) which is available on our website (www.allianzretireplus.com.au). PIMCO provides investment management and other support services to Allianz Australia Life Insurance Limited but is not responsible for the performance of any Allianz Retire+ product, or any other product or service promoted or supplied by Allianz. Use of the POWERED BY PIMCO trade mark, or any other use of the PIMCO name, is not a recommendation of any particular security, strategy or investment product. The products referred to herein are not sponsored. endorsed, or promoted by MSCI, and MSCI bears no liability with respect to any such products or any index on which such products are based. The PDS contains a more detailed description of the limited relationship MSCI has with Allianz Retire+ and any related products.