We’re all operating in an elevated environment of rapid change and uncertainty. For our adviser community, that has meant not only having to ensure being ready to run the business remotely, it has also meant changing communication strategies to ensure continued connection and engagement with clients.
We (virtually) sat down with Matthew Cummins from Millennium Wealth to hear how he and his team have navigated the last couple of weeks.
Tell us a little bit about your business and the type of work that you do? Who are your typical clients?
We are focused on providing a tailored personal advice service for our clients. When I decided to leave one of the Big Four financial planning companies after more than ten years, I wanted to build a business that enabled me to focus on a specific group of clients and help them with their wealth goals.
Most of my clients are in the pre-retiree to retiree group – so aged between 50 and 70. And the majority are professionals – lawyers, doctors or senior executives. At this stage of their life, they are looking at what they need to set themselves up for their dream retirement and are looking for experts to help them navigate the complex superannuation and tax rules to plan and focus what they need to do in the five to ten years before they do retire.
Have the types of inquiries you've received changed in the last couple of weeks? How are your clients feeling?
Absolutely there’s been a change in conversations. It has come as quite a shock to everyone, especially for those that are nearing retirement. They have been enjoying a good trajectory, well in advance of our forecasts with this suddenly changing, requiring them to suddenly take stock of not just their financial but their personal goals as well.
A lot of our conversations with clients have been about helping them to understand the current risks and what they can do to manage that risk in the current environment to meet their plans or agree to what needs to change going forward in order to meet their needs.
In our business, that means taking clients back and reviewing their original plans & projections, reminding clients this volatility is normal in each cycle and bringing back the focus towards their long term goals and plans. We also reiterate that we had prepared them for this, having spent time over the last 12 months looking at bolstering safety nets and rebalancing portfolios where required to ensure they weren’t over-exposed. Talking through the benefits of alternative assets and liquid government bonds can help provide them with stronger protection to ensure their portfolio’s can grow and bounce back in the medium to longer term. These assets had been under performing equities for the last few years but these are the times they are required and reminding clients of these buffers can provide them a degree of comfort.
How have you been working with clients to allay their concerns?
I’m typically a pretty proactive person. This is impacting everyone so for us it’s about sticking to what we do best. For me that’s trying to call them before they call me. I have spoken to the majority of my clients at least twice in the last month, which is a lot of communication but is helping them to navigate this time.
One of the advantages of setting up a business with a digital platform is that clients can access their information and receive live reports on performance and asset allocation, etc. So, they can see what their super and investments are doing in real time. This can be a double edged sword but I think its empowering clients being able to easily get access to this information as much or as little as they’d like.
We are getting a huge amount of material through from various providers, including fund managers and others so I am sending out an update once a week to provide clients with an update on what’s happening in the market. Overall, we are increasing the communication we are providing to our clients to bring their questions to life and show that we understand how they are feeling during this time.
Have you moved to remote working? What does that look like for your business?
We have all moved to remote working. My business manager and I have always worked form home at least one day a week, so this isn’t foreign to us and we are well equipped to work remotely.
What has been difficult for us as a team is trying to manage the systems and processes to ensure we are up to date with reviews, documentation, file notes and everything. I expect this will be a challenger for everyone over the next while.
The personal interactions which we all value is the other challenge for both staff and clients. My business manager and I catch up via call in the morning and then via email in the afternoon to confirm priorities and communicate what we’re prioritising and achieving. The extra communication is essential as you’re not able to have that quick conversation you are used to when someone is across the desk from you to make sure things aren’t slipping through the cracks.
Have you changed how you connect with your clients (video instead of face to face, etc)? What has the change been like?
We’ve always tried to be pretty flexible about how we connect with our clients. We have some clients who are overseas or interstate, so we are used to setting up video conferences. As we’ve established a good relationship with our clients, most are happy for a phone call, rather than having to view through video.
For those that we do need to meet with face to face and who may not be so tech savvy, we’ve been flexible about timing so that they can have someone to help them with the technology if needed. I have a call later this evening and we’ve left it till later in the day so he can have his son with him to help him connect and set up the video call.
What have been the advantages and disadvantages of moving to virtual technology for client engagement?
In terms of advantages, it’s a lot easier to speak to a lot of people through email and to provide a consistent message for people to access at a time that suits them. And meeting through video conference can save a lot of time for people who would otherwise need to travel for an hour or so just to get to the office for a face to face meeting. This means people can be more productive and save time that would otherwise be spent travelling.
On the flip side, there will certainly be a slowdown of new clients coming on board. For us, and for most financial planners, it’s essential to have that initial face to face meeting, as it’s all about creating a good, trusted relationship.
How are you managing your wellbeing during this time?
I have an 18 month old so my wife and I set up a roster last night to ensure that we can juggle everything.
For me it’s about trying to keep to a routine and break down the day, so you have consistency and a set objective. I’m booking in meetings and creating certainty for the day and also looking at ways to keep exercising and staying healthy. The key is to try and stay 100% committed to each individual task that you’re doing at the time.
What's your one piece of advice for fellow advisers?
This is a critical time for you and your clients. It’s during these periods of pressure that we will be judged by our clients. And when things do start to return to normalcy and they are talking to friends at work or at a BBQ with friends, they will remember what you did for them. So be proactive, get on the front foot and be there for your clients.