The coronavirus pandemic has thrown many business plans off-kilter and has resulted in some advice firms deferring their annual reviews with clients, while others are pushing ahead with the process online. Here, Claire Tyrrell speaks to some firms about their approach…

Satis Wealth Management director and Chartered financial planner David Hearne believes advice firms should not be using the pandemic as an excuse not to conduct annual suitability reviews.

“Some firms are wanting to furlough staff and they might justify that by saying ‘we can’t do reviews’ or ‘we’ll do them when we’re all back in the office’,” he explains.

Hearne has shifted his annual reviews to video conferences and plans to conduct them in coming weeks, believing firms have a responsibility to hold these reviews despite not being able to meet with clients physically.

“Client reviews shouldn’t be deferred when we’ve got alternative means of doing them. To defer them puts pressure on businesses later, so our message to our clients is we keep doing those reviews,” he says.

The Yardstick Agency founding director Phil Bray, a marketing specialist for financial advisers, says some firms are reluctant to conduct these reviews until they can physically meet with clients: “The majority of advisers and planners we speak to are moving client reviews online, however a small handful are delaying client reviews until after lockdown, mainly because their clients don’t feel comfortable with video conferencing.”

Satis’s Hearne adds the issue with deferring reviews is there is no certainty as to when lockdown will end.

“If you’ve been putting it off for a month or two you can probably cope when you go back, but if we go on for a few more months of this there will be a big chunk of the year where clients haven’t had reviews, and then it starts to become a real problem, where you’re taking out an annual fee but you haven’t seen a client or reviewed their circumstances,” he says.

Bray explains most clients who are not comfortable with video conferencing are in older age brackets and cite security concerns about sharing information online.

“They’re not used to video conferencing as a way of communicating or concerned about online security,” he adds. “A lot of those issues can be addressed with client education and making sure your videos settings are correctly set up.”

Virtual meetings to stay
Video conferencing software giant Zoom has been criticized recently for security breaches like “zoom-bombers“, but has installed updates to mitigate this.

Handford Aitkenhead and Walker managing director and Chartered financial planner Alasdair Walker says he, like many advisers, is trying to stay as close as possible to “business as usual” at his firm.

“We have a pretty robust review process. We are having the meetings as scheduled but it’s via Zoom now. We have a preference to email [review letters], but we are getting some post out, with one person in the office,” he explains.

“I think there’s a regulatory responsibility of having a suitability check and we’ve defined that as being annual so we continue with that responsibility no matter what goes on with markets.”

Walker adds that he was delaying some procedural changes to clients’ portfolios, such as selling and buying back taxable assets in ISA accounts, during lockdown.

He says some of the ways he is conducting business during the pandemic would stick post-lockdown, including a proportion of client meetings being moved to virtual environments.

IFS Wealth and Pensions Chartered financial planner Ricky Chan adds advisers have a duty to their clients to carry out annual reviews as planned, despite an absence of physical meetings.

“Face-to-face meetings are great but this pandemic has shown that advisers/firms adapt quickly and it’s not an absolutely pre-requisite. Client meetings will be done over the phone or online – whatever suits the clients,” he says.

Chan adds the advantage of conducting annual reviews online is they could be carried out in a faster time frame than face-to-face meetings.

This article was previously published on Professionaladviser.com

Further reading

How three financial planning firms are tackling Covid-19