• Theesan Moodley

The Intermediary voice of reason

COVID-19 is entrenching long-term shifts in consumers’ attitudes, behaviours and purchasing habits, shows Accenture’s Consumer Behaviour Research Report. Clients’ evolving needs and expectations mean intermediaries should adopt an even more client-centric, empathetic approach. Now’s the time to understand what clients really want from their financial planners. And if intermediaries don’t know, they should ask.

Jacques Coetzer, General Manager: Strategy and Transformation at SPF Distribution, says intermediaries can play an essential role by offering an objective voice of reason to South Africans facing a myriad of financial challenges in the current climate. In times of uncertainty, people may panic and make rash – and potentially, regrettable – financial decisions about their savings and investment portfolios and how they respond to challenges pertaining to potential losses.

Theesan Moodley, General Manager: Intermediaries at SPF Distribution, adds clients might also consider cancelling “grudge purchases” like life cover in times of financial and economic stress and this may have dire consequences. For example, an individual’s health may deteriorate unexpectedly, and render him unable to qualify for a new policy later. Moodley notes, “The intermediary should proactively reach out to clients to reinforce the relationship through this difficult period. It’s critically important that the client and adviser stay close together.”

Coetzer adds, “In times of economic downturn or difficulty, the same basic principles apply. The intermediary must be the voice of reason to help ensure a client doesn’t act on incomplete or false information or a limited understanding of information.”

Shifting client priorities and expectations

Moodley and Coetzer believe that COVID-19 has altered how clients view their finances in the following ways:

  1. Finances, front and centre: Changed circumstances may mean clients are more aware of money matters than ever before. There may be increased interest in understanding how investments and policies work together, for example. Intermediaries have a critical role to help clients reprioritise their financial portfolios and goals.

  2. More technical questions: The need for a better understanding of money matters, coupled with information saturation and fake news, may mean clients spend more time trying to understand their finances and asking deep questions. They’ll expect intermediaries to have up-to-date, credible information on-hand at all times.

  3. A shift in values: The pandemic is making many people question not just their finances, but what they value most in life. The prospect of one’s mortality can force a reassessment. Intermediaries can be part of this journey by providing an empathetic, supportive ear. People are seeking holistic advice that addresses their fears. Importantly, intermediaries need to ask whether their understanding of the assumptions they’ve made about clients are still valid. Now is the time to ask clients how they perceive the world and their place in it; what they really care about, now and in the long-term.

  4. The whole experience is what matters: Intermediaries need to be fully operative and flexible enough to accommodate what is currently at play. This includes offering an omnichannel approach that is optimally convenient to the client. For example, offering a self-service section on a site, communicating digitally and introducing digital tools.

  5. Focus on existing relationships: Intermediaries need to be as focused on retaining and building existing relationships as they are on seeking new business. Make it a priority to proactively reach out and reassure clients.

The success with which intermediaries are the ‘voice of reason’ for clients during this time, will depend on the extent to which clients trust them to fulfil this role. “Clients want something different from intermediaries right now. They want someone who is even more supportive, empathetic and understanding than usual; to address their fears and concerns,” concludes Coetzer. “If you’re not sure what your clients want and need right now, ask them.”