Traditionally, financial planning meetings were held in person, which created intimacy, but limited an advisor’s clientele to those who could physically get to their office. Advancements in technology allowed some advisors to increase their virtual communication, but almost all advisors found themselves operating in a virtual environment at some point during the pandemic. For many advisors, this created a flux in meeting culture – while some advisors found that they preferred the availability, ease of use, and non-geographic constraints, there are still many advisors and clients that prefer to meet in person. Deciding which meeting format (in-person, virtual, or hybrid) to implement has recently become one of the more challenging aspects for advisors in developing the client experience.
In our 77th episode of Kitces & Carl, Michael Kitces and client communication expert Carl Richards discuss how the emergence of remote culture has changed the conversation about how advisors approach meetings, and the benefits and limitations of different meeting mediums.
As a starting point, it’s important to identify how each meeting format impacts communication between the advisor and client. Advisors will often work with clients that share similarities, such as age group, interests, socioeconomic status, and communication styles. Understanding these similarities can clarify which meeting style can be utilized best. For example, younger clients are more accustomed to working remotely and may be a better fit for advisors who meet virtually.
In-person meetings can provide clarity for advisors and clients in judging whether a relationship is a good fit, as it is much easier to interpret trust, emotions, or body language and can make having difficult discussions more comfortable. Virtual meetings can increase the distribution of information and allow for more flexibility and frequency in meeting times and locations, especially as the advisor-client relationship matures. The hybrid method blends meeting styles and offers benefits such as the ability to meet asynchronously, but can also add additional progress tracking and may limit advisor or client responsiveness.
Ultimately, the key point is the right decision for which meeting format to implement is up to the advisor. When designing a great client experience, instinctually, client preferences are put first. But in this case, advisors can benefit from prioritizing and internalizing their meeting preferences to develop more trust, confidence, and better expectations. After deciding the best meeting format for them (just as advisors define their niche or specialization), advisors can develop a client experience and attract clientele by being upfront, honest and clear with clients about the meeting methods utilized. Overall, the benefit of choosing a meeting format is to increase efficacy and efficiency in communication, creating a better, more meaningful experience for advisors and their clients!
***Editor’s Note: Can’t get enough of Kitces & Carl? Neither can we, which is why we’ve released it as a podcast as well! Check it out on all the usual podcast platforms, including Apple Podcasts (iTunes), Spotify, and Stitcher.
Kitces & Carl Podcast Transcript
Michael: Well, good afternoon, Carl
Carl: Greetings, Michael. How are you?
Michael: I’m doing well. I’m doing well. How are you?
Carl: I’m fantastic. It’s snowing outside, which is really good news.
Michael: It’s snowing. So you are in Utah. It is snowing in Utah.
Carl: Yeah, we have not had hardly any. It’s silly. You can almost still ride your mountain bike, but we’ve got a real storm going on outside, which is what makes us happy.
Michael: Yeah. See, I’m from the DC area. When snow starts falling from the sky like literally snowflakes, individual quantity, like snowflakes begin to fall from the sky, everyone freaks out. Everyone shuts down. We don’t handle snow very well here. We only get it a couple times a year. Schools just close the minute snowflakes begin to fall from the sky. So the idea of being excited about the snow, wonderful for different parts of the country.
Carl: Yeah, for sure. Very, very good.
Adjusting Meeting Formats To Create Different But Meaningful Client Connections [01:04]
Michael: So I think that that’s actually a good highlight for the discussion saying, we live in this new, increasingly flexible, somewhat mobile world, right? More and more advisors that have, kind of, found like, “I can work from anywhere. I can go different places and manage my practice. My clients are all over the place,” or just, “I spent a lot of money on rent, and I’ve done meetings virtually for the past two years. So do I even really need the office anymore? Should we just live this location-independent, flexible practice?”
And a lot of advisors I still hear from the other end that are making the case like, “No. At the end of the day, clients can go to anything through the internet. My clients come to me because I’m here and they can sit across from me and we can break bread and have difficult conversations in person.”
And so we had a question come in for the podcast recently that I’ve heard in a lot of forums over the past couple of months that I guess to oversimplify just comes down to virtual or office, what do clients actually want at this point? what should we be doing or trying to do? How should we be planning if we want to be successful relevant advisors in the future?
Carl: Yeah. Wow. Super good question. Before I give my take, which I, by the way, reserve the right to be wrong about everything I’m going to say about this subject, because surely you’ve done some Kitces research on this.
Michael: See, the problem is we have not studied this as directly as I would like to. We may dig into this a little bit more with some survey work in the coming year. Honestly, the short answer to me is just there’s a bajillion people on the planet. The reality at the end of the day, for every person who thinks like, “Virtual is awesome. I love this internet-based world where I can go wherever I want and do whatever I want,” there’s someone that says like, “I want me to sit across from a person. I want to be able to shake their hand. I want to be able to look them in the eye. Computer eye doesn’t count. We’re sitting across from each other or it’s not a real relationship.”
And just people are going to have different preferences either way. To me, the real driver… I actually turned this around the other direction to say just, “What do you want to build? what’s meaningful for you?” The truth at the end of the day is that most of us end up working with clients that are basically us plus or minus about 10 years, usually have similar, kind of, background and socioeconomic status, a lot of similar communication style preferences. Because if we didn’t line up with people that have a lot of similarity to us and resonate with our communication, we just wouldn’t work with them. We would say, “It didn’t click,” and we would part ways, right?
I always think of that, well, I guess to me, the logical extreme of—I just have to say—engineer clients, and a lot of us just roll our eyes. We all know what that means except a subset of advisors who are like, “I love engineer clients. I used to be an engineer. I talked to engineers. Engineer clients are great. They’re my people.” I’m like, “That’s the point,” right? For every advisor who loves engineers, there’s a bunch who don’t like them. For every advisor who likes to be virtual, there’s a bunch who are going to want to be in person.
Clients, kind of, sort themselves through to us as well. And so I do think there’s a very real dynamic in the near term of, if I got a lot of clients that are really more in-person inclined to be wary how much I go virtual, if I got a bunch of clients who want to go virtual, it’s probably not helpful to try to force them in the office if they really don’t want to come. So your clientele may evolve a bit if you are not necessarily lined up that way and need to reconfigure.
But to me, at the end of the day, look, there’s plenty human beings on the planet who are going to pick virtual, and there’s plenty of human beings who are going to pick in-person office. Just do the thing you want to do and get the clients who like that and accept that may take you a couple of months or years to get there. If you’re not aligned now, set the vision of what you want. Just go do it. It would be different if we were going to say like, “I want to make a virtual practice, but it’s 1972 and we can only do this with pen pal letters.” That might be a little bit harder, but the technology has come a long way.
So if you want to do it virtual, the text there to do it, if you want to do it in person, there’s certainly no shortage of people who want that. So I guess ironically, given how client-centric I generally am for everything we do in the advisor world, I’m sort of of the mindset I guess not forget the clients, but do what you want to do and find the clients who want that. I don’t think you’re going to run out. Of this choice, you’re not going to run out. So just do the thing you want to do.
Carl: Yeah. So first of all, generally I love that because I remember thinking that 20 years ago. I remember thinking…
Michael: You were too early back then.
How Different Meeting Methods Can Affect Communication [06:21]
Carl: Not remote, not remote, but like I remember thinking, “I’m going to build a business that I want to build and then I’m just going to attract the people.” And I remember feeling so like how often people would come around and doing that sales training where you have to do the thing and pick which your communication style based on the… I’m moving my hands around a lot right now for those of you who aren’t watching, but you had to be like a chameleon. Remember all that training?
Michael: Oh, yeah. If your clients are very visually oriented like you need to draw a lot of pictures for them, but if they’re auditory, you need to change your communication style. And if they really prefer written over verbal, you have to stop calling them and send them emails unless they verbally prefer verbal, and you have to stop sending them emails and call them instead. We’re always supposed to adapt to whatever their style is.
Carl: Yeah. And I remember trying that and thinking, “I’m just too dumb for this. What if I just did what I uniquely wanted to do and I did it louder and stronger so it was attractive to the people who liked it?” So I think virtual versus in-person is another vein of that. I can think of how cool of a business is it to have one of the old-brick buildings on Main Street that people come into, and they get to meet your staff. And there’s somebody there, and it’s cozy and awesome. And you build the office like a comfortable architect’s office or a coffee shop or whatever. How cool is that? That’s really, really cool if that’s what you want.
And then how amazing is it that we’ve got people building world-class businesses, highly specialized niches that are serving people all over the world 100% remote that they’d never even met. I love the idea that there is no right answer except the one that’s right for you. But one thing that I think I’m increasingly finding true is whether it’s… As you were talking, I was just thinking through how little I like things in my calendar, and so the thing I want to just throw into this discussion is asynchronous work. We as a team internally and in every other place I’m involved in like community service, a church, I’m continually thinking let’s only have meetings for things that only you could only solve with a meeting. And then I’ve realized that that boundary is a lot more fluid than I thought.
So the ability to send somebody… And I’ve noticed this with a lot of advisors. The answer almost always is, “Hey, I have a question,” the answer almost is, “Let’s have a meeting. Hey, I’ll send over some Zoom links and calendar.” Well, how much of it can we get done by saying, “Hey, give me a little background on your…” If it’s easier for you, Mr. And Mrs. Client, shoot me some details on… Feel free to just record a voice memo or a video, if you want, a screen share, send it over to me, and then I’ll see if I can answer your question so that we don’t…” Because I think clients, everybody I know right now, everybody I know, busy. And the last thing they want is another meeting. And so I think that’s another interesting twist to think you can do that easier if you built a remote culture that allows you to respond asynchronously and rapidly with clients.
And so I think that’s a really powerful thing to start thinking about. I’m seeing it come up a lot, and I always think this is interesting. In the kind of strategy and management world, and I spent some time there, because I’ve got a bunch of buddies that are way into that, strategy and management both on the entrepreneurship level and even on large companies like places where you get OKRs, all of that kind of stuff, I’m seeing the word asynchronously popping up all over the place right now like, “Hey, do we really need a meeting for that?”
And that’s the first thing I thought of when we started thinking about remote because think of what you’re asking the client to do. Okay, I’m going to get in the car. I’m going to drive a half an hour if I’m lucky. I’m going to find a place to park. I’m going to come in. It’s winter and I’m going to drive home. And that could possibly be me recording a five-minute screenshare, you recording a 15-minute screenshare back with the answer. Fascinating. So I don’t know how that fits into this discussion.
And then the last thing I’d want to say on this is we clearly know that there’s a level of communication that goes on in-person that doesn’t happen remotely. One step down, there’s a level of communication that goes on with video that doesn’t happen over the phone. And one step down, there’s a level of communication on the phone that doesn’t happen asynchronously via email. And so I think there is always still… It’s important to keep that in mind. And I think we’re getting better at capturing that nonverbal communication and the level of connection via video now, and I think it’s important to realize. You can be really good at this. This is me looking uncomfortably in the camera. It’s uncomfortable for me because Michael’s down here like physically down here.
Michael: I’m physically on the screen.
Carl: Digitally in my office.
Michael: We are in different locations. We’re not like…
Carl: Yeah but like…
Michael: …doing this on camera, and we’re actually in the same room opposite each other.
Carl: This is me looking directly at Michael, right? That’s a different feeling than that.
Carl: And I think if we’re going to do this remote thing, we should keep in mind every little thing we can do to increase the level of connection occasionally at least. And, geez, it’s not that much. This is my iPhone camera plugged into the computer looking directly. This is $25 Lav mic, you know what I mean? It’s not that hard to be a little bit better than your webcam and your web speakers.
Michael: But, Carl, isn’t the essence of good service from advisors the in-person meeting?
Carl: Yeah, look, I think the essence of, well, geez, that’s a complicated question, right? The essence of good service from advisors, not prospective clients but once you’re a client, is rapid response to problems, right? To me, it’s like…
Michael: Rapid response to problems. So does that…
Carl: Give me an answer
Michael: …that break down in asynchronous world? Is asynchronous, “Send it to me when you want, and I’ll get back to you when I can”?
Carl: No. Well, I should be clear if I communicated that way. I don’t mean it that way. It may even be faster, right? I cannot even fathom. About a year ago, I had had enough with calendar Tetris. When it was 26 emails to find a time that we could meet together with my friend, Rob, who runs a big firm in the UK, I was like, “26 emails? It’s a full-time job for me just to schedule an appointment with you.” And I was like, “Is there any way you could just send me a video?” Talking through what we’re going to talk about, and we got it all done asynchronously. So sometimes it’s easier. Now the connection…
Michael: And what do you use to do that?
Using Third-Party Services To Communicate Asynchronously [14:09]
Carl: Depending on your… I love using video, and I use a service, Vidyard, but Loom is probably what I would use if I was starting. I just got an early contract with Vidyard. And I love the mix of screenshare. Here’s what I love doing. So simple, right? Loom, screen record with a little camera of you, so it’s like you’re little down here in the corner. And then you’ve got the email right in front of you that the client sent asking these questions. I pull up their email and literally highlight the question I’m talking about why I’m answering it, right? And so they’re looking at their own email, I’m highlighting it, and I’m down in the corner talking, and maybe I have something else that I want to share, maybe a visual. So that’s how we get a ton of our work done.
Now, there are certain stuff that I think if it’s going to go, I don’t know what it would be, maybe two or three layers deep, if it was a decision tree that had more than two layers, then maybe it needs to be done synchronously like on the computer together, sorry… in a meeting together, whether that’s in person or not. But I do think we’ve been given permission to try more of these things. You and I knew people that were building fully remote businesses before. Now it’s even easier.
Michael: Do you think about this differently as the client relationship evolves? Because I think about this in a typical client scenario, at least for me, historically. So tons of work upfront, lots of meetings, lots of stuff often in-person at least historically had to be virtual for the past 18 months. We’re through the initial planning process, we’re into some ongoing cadence, review meeting cadence, check-in cadence. Often still regular meetings, often at least historically still in person, right? We’ll come together. We’ll break bread. We’ll spend a little time. Hopefully we’ll have some planning conversations. At first, we’ll look at a portfolio performance statement if we got stock. We have those meetings on an ongoing basis, and you always get to some point.
Historically, to me, it was somewhere around the four or five-year mark with the client relationship where you get to that point, “Hey, it’s time for our meeting. I haven’t seen you in a couple of months. Let’s do our regular meeting.” And I get some response from the client that was basically, “I’m good right now. There’s not much going on. I don’t really have anything I wanted to bring you to talk about. I’ll call you if there’s any planning stuff going on. You call me if you think there’s planning stuff we should be talking about. Short of that, I don’t really feel like we need to have this check-in meeting.” And the meetings suddenly get less frequent. They begin to fall off in cadence. If they weren’t virtual, they start going virtual. Or if they used to be in-person, they become phone check-ins. Now maybe they become video check-ins.
And so I do find very much there’s this evolution where, after the first few years, the relationship I think really just some combination of, “We finally worked together long enough; you really, really trust me and you’re letting go and have really delegated that trust. And just the bulk of your planning stuff has largely been sorted out, so until something changes in life, there’s not necessarily as much planning stuff to do where that changes.” So when I think about this, I get it for more virtual, more asynchronous as that client relationship matures, but I guess I’m still wondering, how do you think about this early on? Just this asynchronous dynamic you’re talking about, does this work in the first year or two of the client relationship or is this more about how we service clients in years 5 through 25?
How To Implement Different Meeting Formats Throughout The Client Relationship [18:31]
Carl: Yeah. No, I love that. And just real quickly to comment on that, I think one thing to keep in mind is I think it’s really smart to set the foundation early, that when that happens, when the clients start feeling like, “Hey, I’m good,” they recognize that as a win, right? Because if you think like… I want to be really clear about this. I think you are more valuable, not less, and that feels backwards to us. “Oh, we’re doing less work.” No, getting to the point where you can do less work is really, really hard work and really valuable. It’s sort of like advisors should… Advisors deserve to get paid for doing nothing when nothing’s the right thing to do, and it’s really important from a regulatory perspective, being able to tell somebody to do nothing is a lot of work, right?
So I think setting that up early… And it’s a simple conversation like, hey, you’re in our financial detox period, right? Like 24 months, 36 months, 48 months from now, you may find that we don’t need to talk as much. And when we do, high five, right? So anyway, that I think is important. Early on, I would just emphasize this idea that remember that first meeting, like there’s a tendency… When you start thinking asynchronously email, there’s a tendency it can quickly devolve into just these really quick, transactional, kind of, conversations.
And I think at least early on, we got to remember our job, at least in my mind, real financial advice is around this idea of aligning people’s use of capital with what they say is important to them, that’s generally a really… It’s generally a deep conversation, a conversation that typically goes better in person. And I would say it’s probably easier in person. And the second easiest is via video. And so I just wouldn’t forget if you’re going to do video and be remote, get good at it, right? Get good at trying to create that environment where you can have those sorts of conversations upfront. But once you get through that idea at least in my mind… And, again, I reserve the right to be wrong. But once you get through the part like we’ve really uncovered a sense of why, a statement of financial purpose, that kind of work that you’re doing, whatever level you’re doing it to, right, all the way from maybe George Kinder spectrum up to whatever Dan Sullivan three years from now questions, once you uncover that, then there’s a lot of jobs to be done.
And once there’s jobs to be done, it feels like at least be thinking jobs to be done could be handled… What’s the smoothest quickest way to get this done for the client? If itneeds a conversation and it may for… Maybe, right? Oh, we need to tackle life insurance. Gosh, that’s a conversation, right? How do you feel about this? And we’re going to kill somebody today. It’s really important that we… You know what I mean? which spouse is going to die first? We’re going to have all those conversations. I don’t mean to be crass about that, but that’s literally what we do. But then when it’s time to get the insurance, that’s a job to be done. So I just wonder if you can start to think through jobs to be done, do I really need to call and say, “Hey, we need an hour meeting?”
Michael: When we do need the hour meeting, are you virtual? Are you in office? What do clients want? When you get on the client level…
Carl: Yeah, I don’t think clients know, especially… I’m just thinking… I don’t know about people much older than me, but everybody I hang out with, I don’t think there’s a sense of like, “I need to go to that person’s office to see that they physically exist.” I remember feeling that way 10 years ago like, “I’m used to a bank like it’s a building, and it’s got bricks, and I can go there. And my money’s there in a drawer somewhere. I need to see it.” I don’t get that sense…
Michael: Jed Clampett style. You just want to go to the bank and see your money every now and then.
Carl: Yeah. I don’t get the sense that that happens anymore. So I don’t know that clients know like, hey, this first meeting is it’s hard to have that discussion if the dryer just beeps because it’s finished or the kids come running in the room or whatever else. So if you can do that virtually, which you can, you just have to get good at communicating, “Hey, for this first meeting, let’s set aside a little bit of time. We want to make sure we have the right conversation. And this is really important that I…” You can do that virtually. We know people who do it, so I don’t know that clients… Again, it’s sort of a funny question to me, “What do clients want?” because often clients don’t know… I think this is true of real financial planning period. They don’t even know that they want it until they experience it.
Attracting Clientele Based On The Financial Advisor’s Preferred Meeting Methods [23:48]
Michael: I feel like they have a preference. Just people have a preference, but they sort it out. Look, if the client is someone who really has a strong preference for in-person meetings, you’re never going to have the conversation with them as a virtual advisor about whether this is going to work. They’re going to call you. They’re going to someone up the street who has the physical office that they’ve been driving by, and they see it, and they like it, and they trust it. It’s convenient to their house or work. And so they go there. They just go. And I think as you’re highlighting, well, from the other end, right, if it’s someone who just looks at meeting in an advisor’s office like, “Oh, the time, the traffic, the schlep, like can’t we just do a quick phone call and figure this out or an email or a video chat or an asynchronous chat? Why do I even need to spend my time… If that’s the client’s mindset, well, if that’s how you work, guess what? They’re probably finding their way to you or at least you can begin to market to actually communicate that as a positive.
So again, at least from my end, humans are a wonderfully varied people and we don’t have to serve all of them, or most of them, or more than 0.000001% of the world population. So this to me, this is just pick the thing that you want to do and find the clients or the clients will find their way to you that are comfortable with that work style, right? I think it’s even a version of the communication thing. You can try to chameleon your communication style to be more verbal for the verbal people, more written for the written people, or you can just write long emails cause you like writing long emails, and people who like long emails will work with you and people who like phone calls will ditch you. And you’ll just end up with a bunch of clients who like communicating exactly the way you like communicating. It’s okay.
Although I will say I think the biggest takeaway for me was actually just the comment you made along the way that I love so much. I jotted it down as you said it. Sometimes advisors deserve to get paid for nothing when nothing is the right thing to do, and getting someone to do nothing can be really hard work. So I love that. It is totally not germane to the actual discussion of virtual or office, but I just felt the need to give a shout out for that. I like that.
Carl: Oh, thank you. That’ll end up on Twitter.
Michael: Yeah, probably. Well, if not, we’ll share out that you said it and make sure everybody knows.
Carl: Yeah, but one thing I do think would be fun, and I just want to emphasiz]e this as we wrap up is I love this idea of like… It’s Lao Tzu actually. Lao Tzu said… And I don’t have the quote. Darn, I’m going to butcher the quote a little bit.
Michael: Wow, it’s got deep real quick. What’s the quote?
Carl: I know. Lao Tzu, it’s really great. It’s be who you really are and go all the way. It’s very close to that. And I like this idea of, which I think is part of this conversation, be more of who you are. Be more of that. Be more opinionated. Be louder with that. Be clearer about that because that becomes just like the niche and the specialization and how you meet. I’ve got an advisor friend who only does his client meetings outside. Be more of who you are and go all the way. I think it’s really, really cool, and I think it fits with this movement, and I think it fits with this meeting thing. And I think that’s really, really awesome advice. And it’s fun to celebrate that because for so long, we felt everybody in this industry feels like they have to fit into a certain mold, and it’s really cool to start seeing in virtual. And remote is just one example of this idea of like, “No, I don’t have to do it that way. I don’t have to do it that way.” So I love that. Thank you.
Michael: Awesome. Thank you, Carl.