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The current environment has pushed many financial services and asset management companies to review their policies around digital signatures and put new risk management plans in place for a digital world.ipopba/iStockPhoto / Getty Images

The last couple of months of any year are usually a time when advisors across Canada meet with clients in their offices to talk about year-end financial planning. This year, almost all of these discussions will take place by phone or videoconferencing, presentations will be shared on screen and important documents will be signed electronically.

Much has changed for advisors since COVID-19 began, and with the pandemic’s uncertain future, the way business is conducted will continue to evolve. Collectively, advisors have learned a lot about what it takes in this environment, and there are four lessons that can form the basis for success.

These lessons will still apply when life eventually returns to some sort of normalcy – and will serve advisors well into the future.

Take care of yourself and your team

One of advisors' most important jobs right now is to be mindful of their colleagues' mental health. It’s easier than ever to work around the clock, but just because your home is now your office it doesn’t mean you should be answering e-mails or taking calls at all hours.

Advisors should encourage their teams to stick to a more regular nine-to-five routine, with flexibility for those who have obligations like child care. Knowing how stressful this situation has been, and continues to be, for many people, providing an extra day off around many major holidays to help employees decompress can also be quite helpful.

We’ve also learned that you must be more deliberate with your time. Normally, you might check in with a colleague over coffee in the morning or while passing by their desk, but that’s no longer possible for most of us. Instead, try scheduling a video huddle for half an hour to see how everybody’s doing.

When you’re not physically with each other, you need to be intentional with these interactions. The bottom line is you need to take breaks and talk to each other to make sure everyone is feeling their best.

Create and adopt a digital-first approach

Working from home couldn’t have happened without technology – and the financial services firms that have been successful over the past few months are the ones that have shifted and embraced the move to a digital world. These firms now have digital forms, accept electronic signatures, use collaboration tools with their teams and employ videoconferencing software to meet with clients.

Signing up for a videoconferencing account isn’t sufficient. Your dealer must endorse, support and invest in the use of technology platforms. Although upgrading technology will require some investment, dealers and advisors will see a return.

Our industry has had to adapt to a digital-first business world, which admittedly most firms were slow to adopt prior to the pandemic. Our current environment pushed many financial services and asset management companies to review their policies around digital signatures and put new risk management plans in place for a digital world. For example, at IG Wealth Management, only 10 per cent of our forms were signed electronically last year. That rose to 93 per cent as of Aug. 31.

Share insights and information

Whether you work at a small firm or are part of a large advisory network, it’s important to share insights and information with your peers.

That can be forgotten easily with all that’s going on, but passing on best practices to fellow advisors, and learning what’s working for them, will only make your business better. Small teams can meet and discuss best practices over video, while larger companies can set up virtual conferences.

You can also fire up the content-generation engine at your firm and share research and insights internally so that the team feels supported and equipped. This could include client-ready e-mails, market outlook reports, videos and investment fund insights.

Stay in touch with clients

Taking care of your clients is always the most important consideration for any advisor. You need to be there for them when they need you most. The good news is Canadians are still as motivated to save and invest as ever, and they’re demonstrating resilience.

The 2020 IG Financial Confidence Index, which measures Canadians' overall sense of financial confidence, rose by four points to 60 from 56 in 2019 despite the impact of COVID-19.

Many clients have also been quick to adapt to new technologies and understand the importance of staying invested during tough times. They value financial advice and are eager to interact with their advisors.

As such, now is also a good time for advisors to demonstrate their value further by reviewing clients' insurance coverage, ensuring they have a will in place, facilitating communication with their beneficiaries or executors, and helping them navigate through an especially tricky taxation year.

A recent Ontario Securities Commission study found that only 18 per cent of investors said they’re receiving excellent service from their advisors, while 26 per cent have had no communications with their advisors during the pandemic. Only 46 per cent said they have had some sort of discussion with their advisors since COVID-19 began. That’s not good enough. Canadians need help navigating through uncertain times. Those advisors who step up to the challenge are the ones who will succeed in the long run.

Brent Allen is senior vice-president, financial services distribution, at IG Wealth Management in Winnipeg.