Summit Financial Resources has about 200 professionals to service its clients, a small army when you consider that most financial planning firms run with a staff of three or four, including the planners.
Which makes the Parsippany, N.J.-based wealth management firm’s initial client screening process so much more eye popping: They do not sit down face to face with prospective clients. The practice is to organize a teleconference so that the client and the firm can assess each other, using the teleconferencing software Go To Meeting.
Not one advisor, attorney or other highly trained professional from Summit Financial Resources sits down across from a desk to gauges the client’s potential interest, need and figure out whether they meet the minimum net worth required to contract with the firm. Instead, a handful of professionals uses Power Point slides to outline its services to clients. It works, apparently, because Summit Financial is also a regional firm. About 90% of its professionals are based in Parsippany, and it runs offices in New York City, Westchester and Fairfield County, Conn., and the firm manages about $3 billion in client assets, according to Joe Spada, CFP, the firm’s senior owner and managing director.
Just imagine that for a few moments. Would you skip the initial face-to-face meeting with a client and go straight to the technology? Think about your client base and how they would respond to that approach, especially if they are high-net-worth families. If you were going to sign up a prospective wealthy client, which likely has a complex financial life, would you rely so heavily on teleconferencing to manage the initial introduction, and possibly follow-up work?
Summit Financial Resources is not alone as it embraces teleconferencing. Modera Wealth Management, with offices in Boston and New Jersey, use teleconferencing to connect its legal and compliance experts in Bean Town with its advisors and other high-level professionals in the Garden State.
Telecommuting is also a practice among larger financial planning firms. It differs from teleconferencing in that the employee is allowed to work from home, instead of being required to come to the office every day. About 21.5% of all financial planning firms offer telecommuting as a benefit to employees, according to the 2010-11 Financial Planning Salary Survey from the FPA.
As you can imagine, telecommuting is more common among larger firms. About 19.9% of firms with one to five employees offer telecommuting, as do 21.2% of firms with six to 30 employees, and 26.7% of firms with 31 or more employees, according to the FPA.
The march of technology, though, will almost certainly make these two practice management techniques more prevalent in the financial advisory profession. When you think about it, a 21.5% adoption rate for telecommuting is not huge, so the industry clearly has more distance to go on this point. It also makes sense that financial advisory firms would embrace teleconferencing and telecommuting. Many of their wealthy clients are senior-level executives, who conduct business that way every day, Spada said in a telephone interview Tuesday morning. If they can manage to run successful practices and business using Go To Meeting—or Skype or some other virtual meeting software, for that matter—then getting on or computer monitor with an advisor is not a big problem.
Advisors who work in Summit Financial’s regional offices also benefit from teleconferencing, because they can easily tap into the expertise of the accountants, attorneys, tax professionals with detailed questions from their clients. During one of 2010’s heavy snowstorms, Summit Financial Resources convened a meeting of its 15-member investment committee using Web-based technology. We can only imagine how much work the firm has accomplished during this winter!
Clearly, telecommuting is not for every financial advisory practice. Larger, regional firms that need to make the most of their advisors’ workdays sound like the best users for virtual meeting software, as Spada points out. Also, if a firm recruits a small number of clients a year, say 20, and the bulk of those patrons are local, then teleconferencing is probably not as useful.