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Advisers can blend face-to-face with online

Advisers have the opportunity to meet diverse consumer needs by creating their own advice-branded services, says Ian Teague, managing director, iPipeline

Traditional financial advice owes much to strong and sustained client relationships and this has generally implied face-to-face relationships. That makes sense for an industry where trust has been both an issue and an important consideration for consumers. But why would anyone trust an individual or company with important financial affairs and matters of wealth, if the trust base does not exist? Generally, we want to see the ‘white of the eyes’ before we feel that trust has been or can be established. This seems to remain the ongoing majority opinion amongst the adviser community, and it’s easy to understand why.

Equally, there are those that believe full online advice is not too far off in the digital future and that such direct, digital models map with the changing behaviours and needs of consumers.

Such models can also make for more efficient business models providing an anywhere, anytime proposal for the client. This is also a view that has some substance. However, why look at the two views as conflicting? They both offer value to different sets of customer behaviours and needs and can live alongside one another. Indeed, why look at the two models as polarised?

Adviser survey

A recent survey by iPipeline, in which nearly 500 intermediaries took part who advised on retirement planning products highlighted this. While a resounding 99% of advisers believed face-to-face advice is the most suitable when providing retirement advice, 39% also rated telephone advice, 25% online advice, and 14% client self-servicing. Whilst this element of the research focussed on retirement planning, this no doubt rings true of the protection market as well and illustrates the need for a combined range of advice options for the diverse range of consumers out there.

Could it therefore be argued that the best approach for advisory businesses and their clients today is a blended model, whereby both traditional face-to-face and digital offerings can be offered within the same proposition by the same advisory business? This could also be for both new and existing business servicing. Is this not a model that has worked and is working very well in other industries?

Blended model example

Let’s bring the blended model to life by looking at a recent example from the airline industry, specifically Turkish Airlines, linked to booking flights for a golf holiday to the beautiful Belek region.

So Turkish Airlines already offers browser-based and tablet-based services. Both have excellent services for sourcing flights and prices. Both equally allow for online purchase.

Now in this particular example the schedule included a transfer between Istanbul and Antalya airports. Booking the initial flights was very easy to do using digital means and information; however, once booked, it was realised that support was needed to better connect the original flights to a connecting flight of some friends arriving at Istanbul from a different starting airport. No problem, I wanted some advice on the best approach, so a call was made to the telephone servicing team. The team then helped amend the original booking in a way that caused the least impact on the original digital booking and that allowed me to better align the transfer times with my colleagues and also arrange appropriate transfers. I was also able to track the changes made by the client services representative through my online services. This gave me confidence over the engagement I had with the individual. When I arrived at the airport and on the plane I had face-to-face engagement with staff although, interestingly, all the safety information was delivered digitally!

Having booked my flights, I was then able to check-in online and download my boarding pass to my iPhone. So here’s a great example of how an industry and organisation have evolved in the digital era, by blending both digital; phone and face-to-face services successfully. Could we take lessons from such industries and use some of these examples and services outlined, to start to offer similar opportunities and approaches to traditional advice businesses? How could we blend both digital and face-to-face services today?

Matching service to needs

Firstly, why not do what the online price comparison sites like and do? If our clients want to source and buy simple insurance or savings products online, why wouldn’t we offer such services to them through an advice branded service? Facilitating this type of self-select service allows potential clients to conduct research before they buy. This could also play into an adviser business model, whereby quotes are put in front of the client enabling them to do an element of research before an adviser engages with them directly and would enable many adviser businesses to enhance their service to existing clients or for generating leads and enquiries from new.

Putting such research and buy services on the front of an advice business can create more confidence for the consumer, especially clients who have pre-existing advice relationships. It would also allow for remote contact to the advice business on any issues that the client was unsure about. That in itself could lead to more formal advice based services. Therefore, let’s not look at price comparison services and advice services as polarised and conflicting. Could we look at such services as complementary within the advice business model?

Interestingly enough, the capability for both the new business and servicing aspects of this model exist today. Some businesses are already starting to consider their models in this context, such as Clubfinance who recently adopted iPipeline’s Assureweb Portal and Term Plug-in technology to power a new consumer facing/D2C sales and advice model. Therefore it’s not the technical capability that needs addressing, it’s the client service modelling and service proposition that needs to be thought through further, in terms of what further opportunities are available and how adviser businesses can exploit these by utilising such solutions.

Serving the client family

While the price comparison sites have the ability to spend significant amounts on marketing, an advisory business already has the advantage of existing clients to whom new propositions could be delivered. Think about the business that has traditionally serviced family lines. When son or daughter need basic insurance or protection, why not have them referred to the adviser digital site for sourcing and purchase? Why not start to create regular reports for the siblings that start to connect them more tightly with the advice business for the future and their more complex needs?

Does this not start to react to changing consumer behaviours through new technologies but also maintain the traditional values of good solid local advice businesses?

If traditional advice businesses don’t build out from the traditional face-to-face advice models, then how long will it be before the price comparison providers start to link in traditional people processes behind their direct, digital offerings? In fact haven’t they started this already and how long before online, existing business servicing tools are put in place to create sticky client relationships?

Questions for adviser businesses

If a traditional advice business has the ability to advise beyond product and produce quality financial reviews, why not do this behind some of the digital and D2C self-service capabilities that can be offered to consumers. Would it not be valuable to understand the implications of direct, self-serve actions upon areas such as inheritance tax planning or trust management? Could quality financial reporting, sitting behind a digital interface, not lead to more face-to-face advice being demanded?

Could we see a situation where advice fees are very closely aligned to pure advice activities and where revenue is still earned from the direct offerings facing off to the consumer? Would blended models not offer choice to the customer in terms of how to engage and when? Would 24/7 access to a client’s financial information, backed by a single advice brand, not be a good thing in driving more business for the advice firm, at the same time as offering the client the option of dealing with some aspects directly?

I know this is a lot of questions but this would make for a more efficient business model, at the same time as giving the client more confidence in where to go should they need human intervention or more formal advice.

Opportunities but also threats

I believe that we have huge opportunity in the industry to blend models and also to apply D2C solutions, but there is also huge threat from modern technology-based brands that can connect with changing behaviours and needs. It’s time to stop challenging new versus old and recognise that both have a place in our industry, recognising a combined range of advice options are needed for the diverse range of consumers out there. Showing clients what the numbers look like for them and how the scenarios play out is key – the more visual the information the better and technology can play a pivotal role in helping to deliver this and support all forms of guidance.


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