What Are Financial Services Lacking In The Digital Revolution?

We’re always preaching the efficiency of digital, but what have we lost in our abandonment of analog? What can we learn from the advisors who carried briefcases, not iPads–back when Starbucks was just a coffee shop in Seattle? This post was inspired by The Atlantic’s excellent feature this week, Is Facebook Making Us Lonely?, that raises some important questions about the ubiquity of social media, and it’s affects on our general health.

What Digital Does To Us

In The Atlantic piece, Stephen Marche cites several studies proving that Americans are becoming increasingly lonely. But if you looked at our Facebook pages, you wouldn’t think so. One hundred friends, five hundred, a couple thousand… The old-school advisor might recite the old adage, “quantity over quality.” He might be right. But what does Facebook have to do with finance?

Facebook is as good an analogy as any for quality financial advice. After all, advisors are in the business of building relationships, and the core action on Facebook is “friending…” Do you think of your closer clients as friends? And regardless of your answer, does being friends with a client on Facebook count for much, if anything, when it comes to the financial advice you give them?

Being “connected” with your clients isn’t the same as sharing a bond with them. The answer’s right in the rhetoric: Connections are made, while bonds are shared, even forged. They take time, effort, and a certain sharing of space and time that can’t happen over the internet. My question is this: Are advisors spending their time in the right places? It’s no secret that keeping up appearances on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn takes a considerable amount of time. Might that time be better spent over coffee with a client, or on the phone just to check-in, or even writing them a note, Jeff Rose style?

These are just questions, but ones that I suggest you think about. We know that trust is built face-to-face, and we know that word-of-mouth is the best form of marketing. Is your client going to drop your name to his buddy because of that great link you shared on Twitter, or because you friended him on Facebook, or even because you wrote that killer blog post? Or is he going to talk about the guy who took him out to coffee just to see if he was still happy with his 401k?

The Benefits of Face-to-Face Conversation

I leave you with a Forbes piece that asserts the benefits of meeting in-person. Founder and President of High Tech Connect, René Shimada Siegel writes (paraphrased):

What can you learn from an in-person meeting that you can’t from a virtual one?

1. You’re off the record.  When I talk to clients on the phone, I might not get to hear the most important information they can share: that’s because they don’t feel comfortable sharing certain information from their cubicle where their colleagues can easily hear them speak.

2. Make use of not-so-small talk.  Business relationships are built when people take the time to share and learn more about each other. That happens more naturally in person than over the phone or in an email, no doubt.

3. Make an impression. Here, she talks about her handbag that served as a conversation starter and impressed one of her clients. She asks, how would you do that over Skype? Good point. For an advisor, it might be your sharp suit or firm handshake that make a lasting impression.

4. Read the body language. Facial expressions often communicate so much more than words. In their eyes and in their body language, we can see confidence, empathy, fear, friendliness or sincerity. That ability to “read” a person is crucial.

5. Learn where the action is. I find out so much when I visit one of my clients in their office. The environment speaks volumes and may factor into your business proposal or plan. The lesson here: go to your clients. Meet them on their home turf: what does it say about them?

Just a reminder to be conscious about how you interact with your clients. Facebook may be efficient, but it looks cheap. There’s definitely a right time for a quick message, Skype, text, or email. From a time-management perspective, these tools can be essential. But there’s definitely a need for face-to-face, honest-to-goodness, regular conversation, whether there’s something important to discuss, or just because it’s been a while.

DJ DJ is a freelance writer, hopeful photographer, and social media has-been. He writes to financial advisors about lifehacks, science, technology, business and marketing for Blueleaf, a software that helps create dramatically simpler, more scalable financial advisory businesses. You can find DJ across the web (about.me/djswitz) or you can just follow him on Twitter (@djswitz)!