Is technology removing the need for face-to-face advice?

By Jo Gilbey
Find me on: LinkedIn 19-Jan-2015 12:59:35

Meetings are hugely important in any business operation. For a start, they allow teams to collaborate internally, helping them share valuable information, inspire each other and ultimately make big decisions. Much of the same is true outside of the enterprise confines, where customers will naturally look for as much information as possible to help make their own purchasing choices.

Research, meetings and advice sessions have particularly significant parts to play in the financial sector. Here, any adviser worth their salt will place great importance in the fact-finding stage of the process, compiling all of the information they need to provide clients with the best possible service. The industry is, however, going through a notable period of change, with technology gradually altering the way in which some of these tasks are approached.

What's happening?

The digital revolution has impacted most areas of the average enterprise in one way or another, but few have been hit quite as hard as communication. The truth is, get-togethers (whether business-to-business or business-to-consumer) no longer have to be a physical arrangement. Discussions can be held and information can be shared easily - regardless of location - in real-time and with minimal preparation.

For many financial advisers, it's the pre-sales stage which has been affected most. Experts can now gather and share all of the necessary data using innovative web-based systems and little else. The shift is creating plenty of new opportunities, but will it ever completely replace the conventional face-to-face approach? Let's start by taking a look at the main plus-points.

Saving time and money

By making communication and the accessing of information simple for all parties, these new portal systems remove the need for advisers to arrange physical consultations until absolutely necessary. With the meetings and associated travel no longer required, both the company and its clients are likely to save a considerable amount of time - and in this industry, time really is money. This, in turn, should make it easier to provide a better value service.

With the mobile trend now in full swing, both consumers and businesses expect to be able to get most things done remotely, or even on the go. Using technology to connect financial advisers with their clients fits in with this perfectly. Not only does it give companies the chance to work effectively with people hundreds of miles away with little notice, it also opens doors for expansion into new areas and perhaps even other countries.  

Harnessing the power of data

The relationship between data and the modern enterprise is more prominent now than it ever has been. Companies and even individual professionals have the power to drastically improve the decisions they make and the services they provide. They can do this by harnessing the power of valuable information, whether it's related to customers, competitors or the commercial landscape as a whole.

The task of collecting this data is made significantly easier when the process is carried out online. Everything useful that is generated during the initial fact-finding process can be recorded with complete accuracy and filed appropriately, with little or even no human intervention.

Data can then be used to generate automatic correspondence, or even to highlight common areas of lead generation - providing better insight for future decisions.

New challenges

The benefits of using technology in this industry are clear and plentiful, but it's important to realise that the arrival of online customer platforms is changing the financial landscape. All of the challenges that arise from the shift must be addressed and accounted for if the potential is to be fully realised.

For example, while the web-based nature of these systems allows businesses to widen their reach significantly, it offers the same benefit to every other company in the world. With the breaking down of geographical boundaries giving potential clients even more choice, competition is likely to increase drastically.

To combat this, companies must ensure their branding is strong and effective. The benefits of their services should also be clear and the service offered has to be of the highest possible quality. Essentially, with more competitors around, finding effective differentiators will become more important.

A secure and profitable future

Profitability is enhanced greatly by the fact that businesses aren't required to invest so heavily in their physical presences. Office space - particularly in more prestigious, central city locations - is usually among a financial firm's biggest expenditures. Removing the need for this by replacing the majority of personal meetings with technology allows for much greater profit margins. This shift in itself is already changing the way in which financial advisory firms operate and appear to their audiences, and the evolution is likely to continue until the industry is far removed from the traditional image most people have of it today.

Providing a personal service will always be part of running a successful business, but in certain situations - with certain types of client - technology offers a great alternative to face-to-face get-togethers. As people become more and more careful with how they spend their money, the streamlining and cost-efficiency that dedicated customer portals offer will help to ensure advisers are still able to make a profit without reducing the quality of their service.

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