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Video conferences with clients require care and a good backdrop

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Video conferencing is a common practice for meetings between company officials in different venues, managers communicating with employees and even students doing distance learning.

But when it comes to financial advisors and their clients, it appears to be in its infancy.

In a recent survey of nearly 800 advisors, all working with clients having at least $250,000 in investable assets, researchers at the Oechsli Institute, an advisor training firm in Greensboro, N.C., found that just 2.1% conduct review meetings with clients by video.

Meanwhile, the advisors reported that 50% of conferences are done in their offices, 22% over the phone, 13.6% in clients’ homes or offices, 5.9% in person in a neutral location, and 5.4% are via email.

The low usage of video conferencing may actually be positive, says Stephen Boswell, chief operating officer of the Oechsli Institute, noting that advisors must be careful not to push videos on clients, who may prefer a personal relationship to a computer screen.

“If you want to use video conferencing with clients,” make sure they are comfortable with the idea, he says.

A good way to promote video conferencing to those who are game, would be to suggest it at the outset when a new client comes aboard, Boswell says.

Meanwhile, the type of clients who want to use video conferencing might surprise many advisors.

“Don’t just assume it’s something millennials will be interested in,” Boswell says. “You’d be surprised how interested older clients can be in the idea.”

Advisors who suggest to clients the idea of video conferencing should “be sure to have a set of instructions to give them on how it will work and maybe provide them with a little video-cam to use, too,” Boswell says.

In addition, he suggests telling clients that if they prefer, they can have one-way video conferencing, where they see their advisors but leave their own cameras off, as they might not want to get dressed, shaved or made up.

Boswell also cautions advisors who want to do video conferencing that they must give some thought to their visual setting in the background.

“You need a really professional backdrop behind you, like in a newscast,” he says. “I saw one advisor who had the camera pointing up at him with the ceiling in the background.”

One advisor team, D. Linette Dobbins and Judith McGee of McGee Wealth Management in Portland, Ore., have been using video conferencing -- mostly Skype -- with clients for more than four years.

“We do about 20% of our client conferences by video,” says Dobbins, who is the firm’s president and chief compliance officer. “A lot of our clients are from the tech industry, and they’re used to doing it, and we also have clients who travel or who live far from our office, even in Nairobi, Kenya.”

Dave Lindorff spent five years as a China correspondent for Businessweek and has written for The Nation and Salon.com.

This story is part of a 30-day series on leading tech trends for advisors.

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