FAR Sight / Swift Chat: How Global Pandemics and World Events Affect the World of Client Service and Financial Advice
The Financial Planning Association (FPA) and Finance of America Reverse (FAR) invited a select group of financial planning practitioners and financial services professionals to participate in a special round table while we were all together at the FPA Retreat in April 2022. This was my first FPA Retreat and I loved every minute of it. We gathered in a side room at the Lost Pines Resort – which was absolutely beautiful – to talk about the most pressing challenges and concerns – as well as the most important opportunities facing advisors today.
As moderator of the round table gathering, I kicked off the conversation by asking the participants to reflect back to March 2020 as the pandemic realities kicked in and, to more importantly, fast forward to today and tell us how things are going, what they have seen and put in place to better serve their clients, and where they are headed as the future unfolds.
In addition to a a handful of FPA staff members who listened in, participating at the Advisor Round Table in Austin were:
There are several components below that bring to light the excellent comments and observations put forth by these insightful individuals.
Many thanks to Kellan Brown and the FAR team for their support in producing the FAR Sight Advisor series. You can learn more about the Retirement Strategies Division and access free CE courses at www.HomeEquityU.com.
As always, I welcome your questions and comments. Use the Contact button to get in touch anytime!
Co-host, FAR Sight Advisor Series
Co-host, Swift Chats Series
CEO, Impact Communications, Inc.
Jamie Hopkins of Carson Group and Steve Resch of FAR debrief after the Advisor Round Table Conversation
Kacie Swartz of Stone Wealth Management and Marie Swift of Impact unpack key takeaways
Steve Resch of FAR provides a recap of why the Advisor Round Table was convened and why you'll want to listen
Transcript from Round Table
And I didn't get the memo that I shouldn't be traveling. Later I got sick and we learn, well, it was probably COVID, right? I did a study subsequently after that to talk to practitioners like you, who said to me, "we feel like we're going through a battle, talking with our clients. They're afraid for their money. They're afraid for their families. They're afraid that they might die." So I wanted to spend two minutes each, if you'll share briefly about how your conversations with your clients may or may not have changed in that time period, at the peak of it, when it was really scary. What is this, the zombie apocalypse, or what? How was that for you?
Kyra Morris: It was intense. And what I've always done when things get intense with the clients, so it's another intense period and the world has come to an end so many times in the 40 years that I've been practicing. And this was an intense world ending. Is write to the clients. Just a real heartfelt writing as far as what I'm going through. Just really sharing my own thoughts, what silver linings I may be seeing in it as far as, how do you really see somebody's face behind the mask and reading eyes, other things. And so just did a lot of heartfelt writing to people during this period. Didn't try and say, this isn't happening.
Didn't try and say "everything's going to be okay," because I wasn't sure. But just being a really vulnerable myself and sharing with them, people were willing to share back and it seemed to carry on and then it was better.
Marie Swift: So telling the community that they're not alone, that they actually have somebody who can see them through with this special expertise. Was there an element of caring, not just that you know, but that you care?
Kyra Morris: Yeah. I mean, that was the whole thing. As far as reaching out, I didn't do this to COIs as far as that goes. This was just for our community client base for me to expose myself in the same way. And then, let them know, here's some tricks that I'm doing to get day-to-day out of the yuck in the fear and stuff like that. Just little tricks, whether it's a 5 minute to 10 minute meditation, whether it's doing some yoga, whatever, you know, something that's my strategy.
Marie Swift: Let's go to Rick next. Rick, how did it change for you, with your clients?
Rick Kahler: Rather than how our business changed?
Marie Swift: A little bit of both.
CONNECTING PEOPLE IN DISCONNECTED TIMES
Rick Kahler: With the business we had a lot of change. We had the demise of the hallway conversations. So there's less connection, less creativity that happened. We had to come up with a way of how can we facilitate creativity on Zoom?
And so we added Microsoft Teams to our IT stack and then a whole new phone system. Because we went virtual, I hired a virtual planners and I gave up the idea of trying to attract people from around the city, which I, this is my 34th retreat. And I'm well known for always looking for a planner. I'm not looking anymore which opened up like, we at 140 applications for this one position, which we got down to six people you'd die for to have.
So, so that's one of the benefits that has happened through it. A lot of fractured relations. I live in an area of the country that is very anti-mask anti-vaccine which split our company right in half. And so dealing with the policy around COVID has been a nightmare. We finally settled on testing every client that came in once tests were available. And it still remains an issue today, but it's been very fracturing which is true of so many things on many, many relationships. I, I am working more, and I'm working more than ever because I have a home office. I never had a home office.
And our staff can stay home, if they're having kids being sick. There's lots of flexibility. We had pretty good flexibility before, but it's really enhanced balance. I think it's enhanced productivity, actually, for us having people work from home. So those are some of the changes. With clients, of course, the meetings have been more on Zoom. We've had to go through, do we ask clients if they're vaccinated, not vaccinated, will they wear a mask? Won't they wear a mask? So that's been a real challenge to negotiate. So in a lot more conversations with clients around the research around, COVID just, I think as planners, we're driven toward data, we're driven toward research and we've become a repository for that for a lot of our clients just as we are for other life data.
Hannah Moore: So it's interesting. I definitely will dovetail off of what Rick was saying about, you know, COVID happened and there was certainly a lot of life events that were happening around that, but it was very divisive. There was a lot of tension within clients and I've found that their concerns shifted to where, like they weren't necessarily concerned about their money.
Even when we had that big drop, I was meeting with clients and they were more concerned about their health than they were about their finances. So it was very interesting. I would have assumed that they would have been concerned about the market, but they were more concerned about everything else that was happening in the world.
Over time we found just throughout the pandemic, our meetings got less rigorous to where we were covering less technical-- clients were already overwhelmed. So we weren't going in depth on a lot of these other pieces. We are finding for a number of meetings, we would just stay on that agenda. We wouldn't go beyond that because that's just really where the clients were at.
And so we saw a simplification in how we were engaging with our clients. We, again, shifted how we were working. And so we, you know, part of the whole pandemic, that's what the extension came out of. So there there's, I mean, that's a whole, another whole other piece of it, but we do a lot of like content production, working ahead, like we wouldn't know... when the pandemic hit, we were already three months ahead on everything, almost six months ahead, on all of our content.
And basically we had to scrap all of it because the world had changed. And so it changed how we viewed our content, how we're viewing, like our engagements to where we're actually shortening that up. Instead of having this goal of three months ahead, we want to be able to be really nimble with that. So that's been a really interesting change as well.
The other thing that we've had to deal with in various aspects of what we've had a number of employees, or, I mean, I had a baby in the middle of COVID. We've had multiple employees, or not employees or contractors who they've been hospitalized or a family member has been hospitalized throughout this.
And so we've been really looking at how do we balance the needs of the firm and the needs of the company with the needs of our employees as well? And so that's been an interesting kind of balance of how, how can we flex as a company to support while still getting the job done? And so those are just some of the things that we've really been exploring.
Kacie Swartz: Hannah, how big is your team?
Hannah Moore: So in my practice, it's me and two part-time people. We have a total of like 9 or 10 people who are on contract, or we pay in some capacity between the firm and then our learning company.
Kacie Swartz: I think that that's a really good point about the simple meetings, because that's something that we found as well.
I don't know if everybody else did, but I'm having more frequent meetings and they're shorter. And a lot of my clients were already really good at Zoom meetings in the first place we were having those more and more because of all the regular reasons, traffic, time, et cetera, et cetera. But going into COVID and lock down and everything, especially here in Austin, people were pretty rigorous about staying home and so they had nothing else to do.
And financial planning suddenly came to the top of their list, which is terrific, except for the part where I had a three-week-old baby and I was supposed to be on maternity leave, but that didn't happen. So, a lot of real-- like that authentic engagement, you were talking about Kyra-- my baby was in all my video meetings with me.
And I was just like, there's nowhere to put her. My husband was dealing with the 21-month-old at that point. And so, both of us were just trying to like pass the office baton of who could work and who could watch kids. And it was just a mess. And the clients really responded to that very well.
You know, like you say about communication, I would shoot everybody messages and say, "get back to me when you can, and I'll get back to you when I can." And everybody understood the delays and we really leaned on our tech stack. I don't know about you guys, but like I have a Calendly for my booking appointments and kind of pushed my compliance officer to find a way for texting to be compliant so that we could make it work because I'm just like it's 2022.
We have got to be able to do it. And we landed on taking screenshots of text messages and loading them into Redtail, which is real classy. We'll make it work. And then since then we found other ways, but that was kind of the band-aid duct tape approach in March of 2020.
Marie Swift: Right. Craig, we can hear from you from your perspective if you'd like to share something.
Craig Lemoine: In my perspective, probably a little more working with planner perspective, right? Working with y'all is perspective. You know, my role at Illinois, we do a fair amount of job placement and, then follow up with our graduates. And I found during COVID really two things happening. The first was the acceptance of like, all right, we're actually going to hire virtual.
And not the exception to the rule. I mean, it hit like a waterfall. So suddenly you have some of our students working with Vanguard and they're still in Chicago. Vanguard doesn't have a Chicago office mind you, but two of them have managed to start with Vanguard, roll-on with Vanguard, stay Vanguard.
And they both work out of their parents' houses. And now they're two-year associates, right? So, like we've found that worked, the world shifted to that end. That was really something. The second thing is... we see it and we'll see it for 18 years, I guess, or 15 anyway, is you took high school kids, and you just took them out of high school for two years. And we can teach them math and we can teach them science, but you miss the social cues and the social graces. That's gone.
And you took undergrads, and you took them out for two years and you had what I really think was a disservice of, we're going to open back up, but we're going to make you stay in that dorm and eat in your dorm room and wear a mask in the hall and really run it where there is no social capital to be had.
We'll see that ripple for a very long time. And where people were when that ripple occurred, you'll see a more pronounced what that means. Right? So the incoming freshmen today missed two years of high school and the incoming freshmen in four years, would've missed junior high. So what did you miss?
We're going to learn. We're all going to learn that-- what did they all miss? So that was kind of my perspective of like it turns out we can work remotely, who knew? And then seeing that two years of social capital's going away. And like the, seeing the outcomes of that are really something that the one that comes to mind right now, and Jamie can attest to this, we worked together. One of Jamie's informal communities is an amazing nonprofit called the Finserv Foundation. And before COVID, I told a hundred students, if you join us, you get an all-expenses paid trip to Las Vegas, and you get to hear some of these great nerds and planning. I would have had two dozen people apply.
I got two and I've pushed it twice now. I got two, they just don't want to travel. They don't see the utility in it. They don't understand the joy in it. They don't get it, right? So, like, that's like one direct outcome that just has me pulling my hair out. It's a completely free trip with all this coaching and stuff.
And to think that that's where we're at. It's just different... like pushing them to do stuff is so much harder than it used to be.
Jamie Hopkins: I guess I'll start there on the challenges of that. I didn't launch planning firm during it. But I did launch a nonprofit right before it, you know, COVID hit, and we had this great plan of going to all the schools and being in front of all the students and talking about what we were doing.
And actually, by the time we had our first launch of it, it was all [inaudible] out. So, then we had to try to figure out how do we get 40 students a year that we can't get in front of, into a program? Year one we did, and we actually were above 40 for cohort two. So, we're doing better than we had hoped, but it's been harder in that regard, right?
That you say, "Hey, you're going to have two years of free coaching, free FPA membership." You know, we're covering that for them, a free trip out, all expenses paid and free disc assessment, resume review, internships. And you'd think, okay, like all that, or you're a student, like, it should be easy. We'll get it on my first email, fill out the whole thing.
And it’s months of work, it's talking to students talking to faculty and it's been a telling-- yes, it's a very unique challenge where the value proposition there from a nonprofit is huge, but getting people to act on that with all the other distractions in the world is challenging. Our firm, from the firm perspective, it's hard.
I don't even know if I remember the beginning of it anymore. I remember where I was, I was in Denver at an event and March 13th, and I went to the bar after to watch Davidson play. And that's where all the games started getting canceled. And that was really annoying. Cause I want to watch basketball, I just wanted to watch March Madness, let me do this.
And it was over. But our firm's been kind of virtual, right? We have, well now we have, I don't know what the number was back then, but we have 42,000 clients, households. So, it's actually probably like 80,000 clients, but 42,000 households all across the country, about 450 advisors.
Most of our advisors could run their practices virtually already, probably about 60% of our clients for an advisor. We're not interstate. So, most of them ran virtual. And that was part of the value prop of being in Carson is we had a huge tech stack and that you actually don't have to do any of that.
So, partners woke up in the pandemic and they all had Calendly paid for and Calendly links set up and they all had a Zoom account set up for them and they all had Teams set up for them. They didn't have to go do that. Oddly enough, we, at least according to the custodians, we had the highest organic growth of a large RIA and they have their categories there in 2020 and 2021.
And, but part of that was like we had, Ron had seen this vision of being this virtual technology first company. And so, we were kind of there. Now the one really big change that we had was like what we would say probably over-communicated them. Like our changing communication was very drastic. We didn't do a whole lot of like structured webinars-- we did them sporadically, but we went and we now do them every other week.
And that's stayed and it's changed the meetings. As I heard other people, maybe they would've changed anyway, but like now we do Social Security, we do Medicare and it's consistent and repeatable, and then that's all out there. And it's from what we've heard from the partners is it's totally changed their client meetings from the sense that like a lot of this stuff was things they'd come in with questions about, and now there's this giant like calendar and they can see everything for the whole year, and they can see last year's ones.
So, it's been a really interesting I know, impact on their businesses from that. Hiring has been really interesting, too, from partners and the home office. I think that's the one. And I know Rick brought up like this notion of all of a sudden I can hire elsewhere. And it created two interesting challenges.
One, people that might've been working with you also have opportunities everywhere. And then two, it did expand the talent pool. For Omaha, very different place. So like schools never shut down ever. Every single school there ran, they didn't run virtual. Nebraska is a very, very conservative state.
There really wasn't much of a mask mandate. I mean, different periods of time, but masks were never really a thing. Now a challenge was us it's, Rob's very health conscious. We shut down the office for a year and four months. We did require vaccine or testing for clients to meet with advisors. We did require that for employees, stakeholders to cover.
Now you put that in the challenge of a state that really never shut down, schools never shut down. Which was helpful for our people because they actually could work from home. Where, you know, like I was in Philadelphia, we were shut down completely. We've got three kids. We had less than a one-year-old at that point.
My wife's a full-time litigator. And so that whole challenge from my perspective was very interesting. But I think when we figured it out, I don't know like when, but it was actually like a better lifestyle for us too, when we got that balance, but it was challenging. And I actually kind of miss it now that I'm back on the road, but that's it, it's a work in progress.
Ross Patterson: Once COVID hit, my existing clients, most of them were just coming out to like paying now because they were pro bono before. And they just wanted that relationship to be more like a business and they felt more comfortable paying me for the service. But setting expectations, I think we had had lots of conversations about that.
So I was expecting a big impact about clients calling and saying, "market drop, what do I do now?" or "what are you doing about this?" And I didn't get any, and the one call I did get was "Hey, can I buy Disney?" And I said, well, "all the parks are closed and they're going to be closer while I don't think so."
And so that kind of surprised me. And clients kind of quieted up for me. It was me prodding them to say, "Hey, let's talk. Let's do something," but there's so many other things going on at the time. But when I did have, I did like a surge thing at the end of the year in December, I had meetings with every client and just as much time as they wanted.
And it was just wonderful. It was wonderful for me because that's what I love. I think client interactions... and I'm in Austin too, by the way. My own firm, it's just me and I thought, "oh God, this is great. Now next quarter I can touch base with them, check in on them," but then January hit, they all wanted another meeting.
"Let's talk some more, it was so great." And it started to kind of backfire. But anyway, we've done zoom throughout. I had one client that's an Austin during COVID that just out of the blue signed on or whatnot and met him for the first time this year in January. I mean we did a lot of stuff to his selling his house.
He started a career change. He went to St. Louis. So, when he goes to St. Louis, I actually meet him in Austin. So it was kind of funny. And he's a little bit shorter than me. I found out. I think with COVID, talking about interactions with people has really changed the in-person stuff.
And when you do see some people in person it's much more meaningful, I think they forget the human interaction, human contact. Even with my kids, you know, social media before, when they're always on their phones and it's just amped up from that. It's yeah, I don't see anybody here with us, so that's kind of my experience.
David Harbeitner: For better or for worse, I don't know that the practice changed markedly. The practice has been around before I joined, it started in its current format in '82. Got burned in previous market issues, so really hard lessons learned, previously. And that set us up for when this came around to be able to clearly communicate "this isn't the end of the world."
And we didn't get that many people who were panicked and those who were panicked, we were able to quickly ground them, because if you're going to work with our firm, you have to agree to be grounded or we won't work with you. So we've been selective with the clients. The person that's using us an investment advisor does not exist.
They're always grounded that way. It got us better with tools. We had the tools I've been virtual since I joined this firm in 2013. So, a lot of those were present, but we got better at using the tools. We've been decent communicators. We got better at communicating the message. We tried to be accessible, but most people weren't looking for it.
They felt comfortable with where they were. They understood. And what we found almost as a by-product somewhat of the enhanced, maybe sensitivity and capabilities that came out of that as the markets have been pretty bad this year, we haven't had people calling us and there's really been no sense that-- always there are people that are a little worried about it-- but compared to what we have seen in previous market corrections, a much quieter time period. So, all in all, it was difficult. But it was also empathetic. It was easy to relate to people and it wasn't about finances first. It was about life first, but then we were able to bring it down to finances because we center their life and their finances.
So, it was an easy transition into what we do that way.
THE EFFECT OF GLOBAL GEOPOLITICS ON CLIENT CONVERSATIONS
Marie Swift: I'm curious about this next bucket of conversation, and I want to do this middle question quickly. It's about today's current geopolitical situation. Are you client conversations different now that we have a lot of social unrest? We have a divided country and sometimes family, as far as politics and mask mandates.
And now we've got this mess in Russia, Ukraine. Are your conversations different? Not everybody has to comment on this. Just raise your hand if you want to.
Hannah Moore: They're more certain. My client base is split about 50/50, and they're more certain in their beliefs, correct?
Rick Kahler: I would add to that more polarized. They're coming from one camp or another, and those often bleed into their investments and their certitude of what's happening and what they need to do with their investments.
So I've been talking, I didn't talk to anybody down from jumping in the short crash. I think that was a non-event, to your point, Anna. But I haven't had to talk a bunch of people down from making a radical shift in their portfolio based on their perception of politics.
Kyra Morris: It's a real teaching moment because so many people were absolutely convinced the market was going to tank if Biden became president. And so, they sold-- they weren't my clients at the time, but we had several new clients that had gone to cash in July expecting to buy back thinking "the market is recovered, we're going to sell on a little bit of a high, and right after the election, we're going to jump back in."
Well, there wasn't any correction after that. The market went straight up, they kept waiting. "It's going to happen!" We collected four new clients after that. And I was like, "okay, let's use this as a teaching moment." You had no idea, how much did that affect that? I mean, stuff that's going on. But you know, as Rick was saying, is the conversations people are showing up much more certain-- in our firm we left people alone. We are apolitical areligious, and we don't live in a community where it's totally against mask mandates or totally for mask mandates or whatever. But my client base seems to be very homogeneous. I don't know if it's that attractor syndrome that you tend to work with people that you are attracted to.
So, we don't have a huge antagonistic or whatever thing going on. Not one of my -- we don't have a big staff, we've got 11 -- but nobody on staff when I said, "no, we're going to go get vaccines" when vaccines were available as and when. There's only a couple of gray hairs on my staff, most of them are under 40. So it took a while for them to be able to get the vaccines. But as it became available, everybody, there was nothing antagonistic. We were very fortunate there, but the conversations now and the left off the DE&I stuff, because there was a huge thing summer of 2020, as far as looking at all the racial tensions and other things that are going on in our country, too, that had more of a conversation than any of these other things as far as a whole, as far as looking at how we really identify these other things and what we do, what does inclusion mean? Why do we even care?
Where the conversations that came back it's like, okay, it's not about race, but we really have transphobia. Other things started to show up. So, I mean, those conversations have been front and center also, you know, additive, I'm not saying these don't exist, but it was just another additive. That was huge.
Marie Swift: Well, so who else has, let's get two more? And for me, code talk for DE& I is "social unrest" because we certainly have that as a polarizing thing with all of the riots in the streets and the conversation about Black Lives Matter and all of the signs that went up and then the yards with the Science Matters. And then everybody's got a yard sign. From the looks of the yard signs in my neighborhood, we're pretty divided.
Two more on this current reality. How have your conversations changed with your clients? Two more people on that. Jamie.
Jamie Hopkins: I'll add one. Following up on the term social unrest, I had two big takeaways. One, I think I became a better stakeholder and leader. And I don't know, I'd probably say just like part of the world community for all that, personally. And I think the other thing though, related to that is actually, and I was at, Liz Braxton and I were talking about it recently, I think both of us -- there's a lot of positives that came out of it. I think both of us have a degree of disappointment though, too. Like there was this notion that a lot of companies put out statements and things like that. And then if you kind of follow up now, not a whole lot of those companies actually did anything.
It was kind of a lot of voice and not much action. If you look at it, some of the areas have done well, some of the HBCUs, but if you look at a lot of the other programs, they didn't really get support. And I don't know that we saw as much change as we were hoping for.
I do think it was probably net positive, but a little bit disappointing. I do think it allowed some companies though to shift it as more of a focus. And so, Craig, you mentioned ripple effects. So maybe the big impact is right. It just hit the water. We'll get the bigger ripple five some years away.
But we also know, I mean, back in the late, I had a great conversation with New York Life about like back in the late 1990s, they got really focused on hiring women into the roles and they say they did a great job for about a decade. And then it wasn't a company initiative anymore. Now they're further behind than they were in 1998 when they started the initiative of hiring women.
And it was a really interesting thing where you've got this ripple, but it died out over time. And I thought it was kind of one of those things like, can you sustain the change versus a small amount? And the other one I get asked about this and I think it's because I was a swimmer, but you mentioned that question of how do we treat people that we haven't been and seen before?
It's very different now than like, there's different variations of that. And the swimming obviously put that into the news recently, but I get asked about that almost all the time, because I think it is because I was a swimmer, but, I don't have any better insight on that than anybody else, but we've got asked, clients have emailed in and like, "what are Jamie's thoughts on this?"
Which is like a really interesting thing. That's new. I don't know where that goes, but that's a new change out there too. One of my favorite things is one of our CFAs and I did a presentation. I think you mentioned it right after the election. And he is super conservative and we had the write-in then they said, "oh, that Scott Cubie guy is too liberal" and Jayden was more ...and that was like made my day is when we try to be apolitical, the most conservative guy got called out for being too liberal. And that feels pretty funny. That's a new one. He was like, "I think this is the first time in my entire life anyone ever called me a liberal."
CREATING HOUSING SOLUTIONS IN A TIME OF CHANGE
Marie Swift: So if there are no more burning contributions on this topic, Kellan, could I put you on the spot and you're free to answer this or to toss it to Steve or Phil, your two deputy compatriots here. Just thinking about from where you said at Finance of America Reverse, and you have to count on data to make your assumptions, has anything changed from the corporate perspective or from the strategy perspective?
Just where do you go? How do you create housing solutions for the nation when things are in flux?
Kellan Brown: Well, if you're talking about COVID, we want to start there. I think what was fascinating about it is most people just wanting to stay home, right? Like that turned into the big plays. "Okay. No, I'm not putting my parents in some place that could cause illness."
So that was huge. For us, I don't think we saw a major shift outside of the refi business. I think that's, what's still a challenge for us is raising awareness about the product itself. And we don't really have good data to support it. I think on the personal level, I think most people were just trying to find a solution to keep people safe.
And those conversations were actually more enjoyable for us because we were providing a positive solution as opposed to fighting something that was a last resort solution for something. And we sit here in our division and try and talk about how you can strategically use it and don't use it as a last resort, that's the worst way to do it. But I think that probably is what was the silver lining for me through this past year, aside from other personal shifts, but it was beautiful to have those conversations and make someone's life much better.
Marie Swift: Kacie, can I put you on the spot? I know that you have a holistic financial planning practice, and you have a tilt towards ESG and working with women. So is there anything you would add to what Kellan's just shared about working with your clients and how things have changed?
Kacie Swartz: I think that's a really good point about how people wanted to stay home and that it does make them more open to the solutions that help them stay at home. For when it comes to the Finance of American Reverse and just anything that allows people to be more comfortable at home. People, especially here in Austin, Ross, you may have seen this, too. Everybody's taking cash out of their houses because they just had so much equity built up, they're renovating so that they can stay. My elderly clients, some of them are last resort people, but the ones that aren't, you know, they're just getting closer to family, if they can, or they're making their house their forever home. Whatever it is so that their nest is as comfortable as possible.
And I think that that's one of the things that is universally true, but also is extra true when there is a strong female voice in the family, either she's the breadwinner or she's alone or whatever it might be. If she's the one that is also saying, "these are the things that our family needs," those things get done a lot easier. If that makes sense.
NEW SOLUTIONS AND FAVORITE TECHNOLOGY
Marie Swift: Spring boarding off of that, and I want to wrap up in the next 10 to 15 minutes. Everyone just keep your comments brief. Let's talk quickly about any new solutions that you are considering. And Kacie, maybe I'll toss this to you first and then you can pick the next person in the inner circle here, if they raise their hand and we'll just popcorn around. But new solution or favorite technology? What are you considering? What's fresh and new in the firm at Stone?
Kacie Swartz: Like I said, Calendly, I mean, all of the different tech stack things that make it easier for people to communicate with us and screenshots of your text messages can't hurt. And then just, this is so silly, but putting all those things in my signature line, so I don't ever have to forget them. I mean, this is lame, Hannah you go.
Hannah Moore: Well, I was going to say for tech stack what's been really, really affected that we've really leaned on heavily has been Asana and Box. And it's really helped my team do like asynchronous work. It's just been a really neat to see how that's changed our workflow and how we do that. One product or solution that's just been really great for me has been a Holistiplan. It's changed how we do you tax accounting at my firm. I made just a really easy solution. Again, I can do it almost in real time with all my clients.
Marie Swift: You get to call on the next person.
Hannah Moore: Okay. Rick.
Rick Kahler: Yes, Holistiplan is our tech application game-changer in that my director of financial planning, speaking on the philosophy behind that this afternoon. And I think that leads into why, what would I recommend is the value of our practices are going to be in the conversation. And the value is going to be put more deeply into understanding the psychology, neuroscience of how the brain works, how people function emotionally to make decisions. We're going to be doing less and less financial planning. 20 years ago at this conference, we were talking about how investments were going to be a commodity. Now we're talking about how the numbers of financial planning are going to be a commodity. And what's left is dealing with the individual, which requires understanding ourselves more deeply so we can learn to be with and facilitate clients.
Marie Swift: Call on the next person, please.
Rick Kahler: Kyra.
Kyra Morris: Well, already a big focus for us has been historically around some of the stuff that Rick was talking about with the mental health and the personalities and stuff. And what really got me excited and Kacie had said, We went and researched three different ESG platforms to really be able to offer something that gave the ESG conversation back to clients because we've had a lot of clients showing up and I just wasn't real happy with going out, "okay, let me check, pick this Calvert fund and reading..."
And it was just me going on. I didn't have the time and the ability. And so different places and now we've got some ESG models for those people that want to have ESG models that still go along some of our regular investment philosophies and stuff. So that's been fun to do, it kind of fits in with the personality side when you've got those people who really care and want this kind of thing, to be able to show them what we can do, and then being able to track them to.
That's been something that we've really added going on. And then we're interviewing here. We've been looking at a lot of people, use the, By All Accounts and Yodlee and different things to do the scraping and stuff. And we found those to be extremely painful to implement and a client goes and changes their password and you're like, "okay, wait a second, got to get you on the phone before we can get around" where you miss two weeks of data, and then you've got to go manually input it and stuff like that.
So those have been painful, but we've just learned about Pontera (formerly called FeeX), and we've had some real good -- I don't know a thing about it. We're having a talk with them tomorrow morning to learn more, but looking at it third alternative, it doesn't need the passwords. How do they work? How is it compliant?
Very low cost. As far as the other stuff we've been looking at to really help us be able to have a more holistic approach to the real that aside, even though we happen to be the quarterbacks for the emotional side, it's the data that gives us some additional added value when we're looking at "here's the emotional stuff, but here's where you're going to shoot yourself in the foot."
So we're going to let you, and we'll have all these discussions around your emotions and you want to stay at home. You don't want to stay at home. You want to disown a child, whatever, we'll allow all those conversations. But if you're shooting yourself in the foot financially in some of these decisions, and we can show that.
So, we're still somewhat data driven and looking at how we have these conversations to at least create those, somebody said playgrounds, that was maybe another conversation. Boundaries versus playgrounds. I love that. So in order to really create the playgrounds.
Marie Swift: Who do you want to call on, Kyra?
Kyra Morris: Jamie.
Jamie Hopkins: Quick question first: What ESG did you pick, Kyra?
Kyra Morris: We ended up going with Fidelity's platform. It's not quite as robust, but it was a really easy way and we like to easy.
Jamie Hopkins: Ethic or its their actual one?
Kyra Morris: Their actual one.
Jamie Hopkins: Because they invested-- there's another company called Ethic Investing, which they own part of, but they're really good.
Kyra Morris: And we've been very pleased so far in the development and being able to track and having client conversations and showing what we're doing and how we're tilting in different ways that they want to tilt and what was better versus... I mean, it's just been a fun conversation to continue to have to themselves.
Jamie Hopkins: Unfortunately, those emails and passwords with a retirement account still break on the back end.
Kyra Morris: You already knew about that? So that's why we're continuing those conversations with that.
DEVELOPING AND INCORPORATING NEW TECH
Jamie Hopkins: It's very good. Yeah. I would suggest using it a hundred percent. It's huge. So, I don't know which tech thing... I'll talk about something I'm working on then. Well, a few things like we rebuilt our entire coaching platform and that's part of the FPA now. If you haven't gone into your portal, log in there and look at the new coaching content that we put in there. So that's a great resource. It's free.
It's part of the partnership here at the FPA. So, appreciate that. And that was fun. Like building an LMS, it's just a weird thing. You probably only do that once in life, so I'm not doing it again. We built an LMS, and we can single sign on and stuff. It's cool. The thing I'm working on right now, we're building like a lead-gen company, so think of Smart Asset and what Edelman Engines did and Fisher and building that from the ground up has been a really interesting thing.
EDITOR'S NOTE: A learning management system (LMS) is a software application for the administration, documentation, tracking, reporting, automation, and delivery of educational courses, training programs, or learning and development programs.
What am I like four months into that? And credibly, like I know a lot more stuff about ad buys and Google Analytics than I ever thought I would, search engine optimization aspects. And that's been a really interesting project and it's still very early on. I call it, we're going to 'alpha one.'
So we're like the first pitch of the first inning, but learning from that has been the coolest project I've ever gotten to work on. And so just seeing where we can build that over the next year. And trying new things like we launched on Cheddar TV, we're like 4 episodes out of 12, but we have a show on there now with Ron Carson and host Hena Doba and like that's incredibly interesting.
I think the multimedia stuff, which you know very well -- we have our podcast too, Framework, which I'm repping today. I wasn't going to wear the shirt, but it had a very good warning with it. So, we have the bragging about this one. Terence Crawford, who's the world champion of boxing. We had him on our show, and we had 15,000 downloads in the first 24 hours of the podcast, which from a podcast episode is like an infinitesimally small pace.
But that whole is incredibly interesting, too. And how are podcasts going to play into communications with clients and brand-building and disrupting some of the traditional media models? Where you had to go to media for distribution and podcasts are creating a different form for that. And YouTube oddly enough being still the top podcast platform, which is surprising to me, I didn't know that for doing a podcast because I thought Apple or Stitcher, iHeartRadio, whatever other ones, but YouTube is still the number one podcast platform, which is very interesting. So that's my technology spill for right now.
I'm going to go David. So, jumping one.
David Harbeitner: Holistiplan for the tax is really the thing that we're finding value add, which is giving us a level of the detail and the data that doesn't surface in the conversation where we focus so much on the conversation. And here come things that come back out that people neglect to tell us.
So that's probably our biggest tech stack condition. Invaluable. I think.
Ross Patterson: I'm demoing Holistiplan -- actually, I paid for a year. And I don't know, I guess I liked my Excel spreadsheets better, but we'll see. I have to do a little bit more work there. Schedule Once, my calendar app is just awesome and that back and forth when I first started out was terrible.
Let's see, client meetings. I've always done Zoom. Let's see what else? Performance... the thing that surprised me the most coming from engineering was how fragmented the software suites are coming into the financial planning. Like we're giving you money, but they don't do performance reporting. And why? What is this?
And so that was a shock to me that I have to get piecemeal all of these different products in order to get what I need done. And it was just mind blowing to me and I don't want to do anything about it, but I do have to use this stuff. So that surprised me.
Jamie Hopkins: People are trying but they're unsuccessful so far.
Ross Patterson: I use Capitect for performance reporting and I like that it's a lot less than Orion and things like that. FeeX for 401(k) stuff (now renamed Pontera).
Jamie Hopkins: Craig how was it with students? How did the university handle it?
Craig Lemoine: I mean, in a way it opened some opportunities. When we all went to Zoom classes, right, one thing that I let us do was we actually teamed up with some of the fintech firms and that connection proved fairly valuable. I don't think there was one company I approached that said 'no.' And so we were able to offer fintech classes, solutions, and some of the other classes, and I think we saw all sorts of tools and maybe a plethora of tools.
So right now, I'm teaching a senior level of fintech class for financial planning students. And I think we probably had 10 to 20 companies say, "Hey, you're doing that. We want to be part of that." And it's like, that's awesome, now we need a second one. But we really saw the ability to pull things in.
I think, you're getting a little more on the Zoom fatigue side of things now, but as far as like fintech tools and tech stacks, being able to have those conversations, it was pretty cool. And then like seeing everybody from Money Guide to eMoney, to Riskalyze to other tools, Morningstar, like just raise their hands and be like, "Hey, here's our tool, if it can help you in the classroom, great." They've gotten so good at scale of log-ons and users and like every, I think to that in COVID really enriched our curriculum. Back when I was getting my doctorate it wasn't a quarterly long ago, there was like a lab. There was like the Charles Schwab lab.
And they gave all this money for the space with computers. And then you had to like update them from time to time. And you always kind of had to worry about operating systems and all that. So freeing, I didn't have to go get money for a lab. Students who still have a laptop, everything runs on the cloud.
In a way, teaching tech today is so much less laborious than teaching these tools when everyone had to have a Bloomberg terminal, right? It's so much cheaper. I don't have to go raise a million dollars to set up this thing where I'm going to have to constantly raise a few hundred thousand to replace these things.
Now it's all in the cloud. So, if it's not working, try Google Chrome or try Edge, eventually we'll get a browser that does it. They're all free. And it's really been an incredible time to teach tech. It's so much cheaper to teach tech than it used to be.
Marie Swift: Thanks everyone. We will adjourn for now. Stick around for a video segment if you can.
Welcome to the “Best Practices in the Financial Services Industry” blog, where you will find ideas and tips from Marie Swift, a nationally-recognized marketing communications consultant who's worked with some of the top financial services and financial advisory firms in the nation over the course of her career. The "Swift Chat" series, which is available in both a video and a podcast format, is co-hosted by Impact Communications Vice President Jonny Swift, who selects his own guests and brings a Millennial perspective to the show. This blog spotlights financial services firms and allied institutions that the Swifts deem as adopting "Best Practices" in the industry. You will find numerous posts with tools and ideas aimed at helping independent financial advisors communicate better, scale, and grow.
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