In a matter of weeks businesses had to pivot, evolve and reinvent as we came to terms with lock-downs and social distancing due to Coronavirus. To fill the void, nearly every facet of society has adopted video conferencing platforms.

And for businesses like financial advice practices, which predominantly rely on face to face meetings, the adjustment to virtual client interaction has been significant.

As lockdown restrictions slowly unwind and businesses return to offices, video conferences (VC) are likely to remain a safer, and more practical alternative for clients with health conditions or the elderly. Video conferences may provide opportunities for advisers to access and service a broader geographic client base, remotely.

Tony Bulmer, Presentation Consultant, from The Bulmer Group, was key note speaker at Allianz Retire+’ recent webinar series, ‘Crucial Conversations’. Tony suggests that the underlying principles of any effective meeting are the same whether in person or VC, however advisers can improve the level of engagement and understanding with a few simple techniques.

Tony says, regardless of the delivery method ‘the most crucial issue is providing a structural framework to a conversation or meeting that allows people to follow and digest’

Preparation is key

To get the most from a client meeting or conversation make time to prepare objectives and think about the desired outcome. Think about what you need to say and what you might get asked.

  • Define the three or four key points you want to cover. No more.
  • Use that framework, as an agenda or talking points, to keep the discussion on track.
  • Take some time thinking about questions your client might ask in response.
  • Distribute agendas to your clients before your meeting so they understand what information or topics will be covered, and can prepare questions.

Tony says, ‘Packaging the conversation under 3 or 4 broad headings makes it so much easier to follow. As you go through the discussion keep referencing back to those headings.’

Leadership and authority – it’s all in the delivery

Confidence and trust is earned. Sometimes the biggest obstacle in delivery of message is trust.  Sometimes it’s all about the delivery.

A client meeting may seem to be purely transactional, however underlying the task or conversation is a complex exchange of visual and verbal cues that can change how a client may engage with you or the information you are presenting.

Being prepared and well researched provides you with the ability to respond to questions accurately and confidently, and to stay on the topic of conversation.

Delivery is key.

  • You should be clear in the language that you use and avoid filler words…”I think”, “maybe”… that might weaken your message or create doubt in your client’s mind.
  • Make qualified statements and anchor them back to the objectives or agenda.
  • If you need to gather your thoughts pause or reflect before continuing with the conversation.

Similar principles apply when answering questions

  • Avoid hasty responses that gloss over or don’t directly address the client’s question.
  • Stop and think before you answer.
  • And, above all, be honest about what you know and don’t know.

If you can’t answer a question you can always address specific client concerns after the meeting… ‘take it offline’. Provide your client with expectations about how and when you’ll respond.

Keeping your clients engaged

Armed with accreditation and abundant technical knowledge, one of the biggest challenges you may face as an Adviser, is communicating complex financial concepts to clients.

To keep clients engaged, focused and to improve understanding:

  • Vary and personalise your content to clients.
  • Consider using examples, stories, and analogies to illustrate complex concepts.
  • If your client’s attention wavers, focus can be restored by introducing the word ‘you’ or their first name into the conversation.

The key to good dialogue is understanding. So try and use natural, conversational language and ensure you ask questions to confirm understanding. When responding to client questions always use the client’s first name to build rapport and engagement.

Most importantly check back in with clients throughout the conversation to assess their understanding of the topic covered.

What to leave in what to take out

The simple answer is you should do whatever works for your client and yourself. Experiment. Tailor your message to your client and limit the meeting to a few key topics, with time for discussion and questions.

Recent experience has shown that business and client relationships can continue to flourish using video conferencing and other digital communication platforms.

Advisers who continue to work remotely are inviting clients into their homes and personal lives virtually. Devoid of office furnishings, reception areas, foyers and boardrooms that add gravitas to business brands, the client experience is raw and personal.

Think of this as an opportunity to sell your personal brand. If there is artwork or a mountain bike in the background it creates interest and talking points.

Stay in sync and look comfortable in the environment you’re operating in. Loungewear or business casual is probably appropriate. A three piece suit in the lounge room will make you look uncomfortable.

Adviser and client have a shared experience of lockdown and interacting virtually from dining table to dining table has grounded relationships on a very personal level.

Regardless of the medium, meetings need planning and structure. Bring your client along on the journey, and ask clients for feedback.

From adversity comes opportunity. Video conferences may be here to stay. It’s the right time to experiment and try new techniques. There may even be an untapped market that you can access and service remotely.

Allianz Retire+ can help you navigate these crucial conversations and provide the insight you need to understand retirees’ hopes and fears, and provide the tools and information you need to create effective retirement portfolios.

This article sets out general practice management topics and insights from the Allianz Retire+ Crucial Conversations webinar series held in June 2020. Statistical research quoted in this article is sourced from the Allianz Retire+ Next Chapter research conducted in August 2019.