Kate Holmes, founder of Belmore Financial LLC, gave delegates attending the FPI Retirement and Investment Convention in Cape Town in September a glimpse into the life of a virtual financial planner.

CFP® Kate Holmes has never met any of her clients face to face. Most of them prefer to Skype her after the kids have been put to bed. When she just started out she rented an office just in case a client wanted to come to see her. This never happened and she cancelled the lease. Now, through healthy online engagement, her financial planning practice is thriving and Kate boasts clients across the United States, as well as in Australia.

Kate’s business is an example of a financial planning practice that has moulded itself to the changing environment – not only in terms of the way she charges fees, but also in terms of how she uses the web.

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For millennials only?
Kate charges a flat fee for a ‘jump start’ session, such as choosing the right 401(k) plan or enrolling in your company’s retirement plan. This pay-as-you-go structure is in line with what people expect to pay for any other type of (non-financial) advice in the US and Kate thought it would attract clients in their 20s and 30s in particular. But it turned out the majority of her clients are wealthy individuals over the age of 55 who simply prefer easy online advice.

She also provides ongoing financial coaching in return for a monthly retainer – similar to how most bills, like your phone bill, are paid. This means she’s accessible to all segments of clients, regardless of their income or net worth.

Rock your website
When a client is referred to you, whether you’re a virtual or a traditional adviser, your website creates the first impression. One of the biggest mistakes a financial planner can make is to not give his website a personality, Kate says. When photographed for her ‘About’ page, the photographer struggled to get her to strike a ‘corporate’ pose. ‘That’s not me,’ she says. ‘I don’t take myself that seriously and prefer to attract clients who can appreciate the fun I bring to financial planning.’

Competition is fierce and clients are more likely to contact someone who has the same interests as them. So show yourself mountain biking or travelling or playing with the kids. Stock photography is an absolutely no-no.

Kate describes herself as extremely frugal and created all her introductory videos at home with her MacBook Air. The result is top quality and the cost $0. Her BA degree in photography is useful but she also relies heavily on open-source services such as Squarespace, iconmonstr and Pixabay to add some fun and flair to her site.

Plug in the parts and play
Along with the website, the following components all need to fall in place:
Cloud-based storage: Dropbox and Google Drive are popular choices.
Email encryption: Kate never contacts a client before she knows the content will be absolutely safe. A financial planner’s reputation hinges on keeping client information confidential and not losing any data.
CRM system: To make sure you and your paraplanner have the latest details about a client and client interactions, a good customer relationship management (CRM) system is indispensable. Two examples are Wealthbox and Less Annoying CRM.
Virtual meeting software: Use whatever the client is already using, be it Skype, FaceTime or Google Hangouts.
E-signature solutions: EchoSign, DocuSign and RightSignature are a few of the options out there.
Financial planning software: Packages specifically designed for the South African adviser have flooded the market over the past few years and can vary hugely in cost, depending on whether you would need it to integrate directly with Astute, how much of your compliance burden it will take care of and whether it provides reports for annual follow-up meetings. Do your research well.

Win-win for client and adviser
Giving online advice is a convenient way to win clients and enjoy a more flexible lifestyle away from an office. But the rise of the virtual adviser is great news for the consumer too. In January 2016 the My Money Conference will be taking place, the world’s first online consumer-facing financial conference. Traditionally, clients were limited to a financial planner within driving distance; now the speed of your internet connection is the only limitation.

 

 

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