5 Ways We Adapt Client Meetings for the Virtual World

Oct 30, 2020 / By Debra Taylor, CPA/PFS, JD, CDFA
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Communicating primarily in the virtual world requires a different approach than speaking face-to-face. Checklists and visually strong support materials ensure clients grasp the key points coming out of any online meeting.

Coronavirus has changed our lives forever. Whoever thought that virtual meetings would go from a “nice to have” client accommodation to the primary, if not only, way to have “face-to-face” contact with your clients.

Speaking to a screen is very different than speaking to someone in person, so we decided to change our meeting style to account for the new communication mode. Just as black and white T.V. approached things differently than color, we needed to make our presentations more visually appealing in the age of Zoom.

In addition, between all of the recent tax law changes and Covid-19, there are a number of content areas that need to be addressed in client meetings, so we created an entirely new meeting approach customized to these times and integrating many of the most recent Horsesmouth materials.

1. Prepare for meetings with current challenges in mind

We have a very detailed meeting preparation process, with all kinds of spreadsheets and checklists. But under pandemic circumstances it looked tone deaf to me and didn’t address what was going on right now. So we created a mini-checklist that highlights the issues that are top of mind: CARES Act, SECURE Act, things to do in a volatile market, planning around the election, recent tax loss trading, the RMD suspension, tax returns and so on.

For example, items 4–6 on our new meeting checklist are portfolio-specific but address strategies, any underperformance, and the percentage of “guaranteed income.” Items 7–8 address recent trades in models and recent trades in the client portfolio and it then includes our “game plan” for the client (anticipated future trades). We explain to the client that we have a 20-page spreadsheet that lists every client and trades we intend to perform and the triggers for those trades. Clients have been very relieved to hear that we have a plan for them.

Item 10 asks about large traditional IRA balances, so I know whether we need to have a discussion about the SECURE Act. Items 12–14 address Roth conversions and distribution planning. I now go into every meeting with this short list of “talking points” customized for each client so we can speak directly to the most pertinent issues of our day.

2. Revise the agenda: make it relevant, timely and visually appealing

Our meeting agenda was a mess. Basically a Christmas tree without the lights! I kept adding and adding—taxes, SECURE Act, CARES Act, beneficiary review, etc. I definitely have FOMO when it comes to these things. You can imagine how that got progressively worse during Covid, with everything going on with the markets and all the tax law changes and the stimulus.

I wanted to make the agenda less crowded and more visually appealing so that the entire agenda could fit on the screen when we screen-shared. So, we shortened it up, made it more relevant, and got it onto one page. You can see the result below.

Figure 1: Our Online Meeting Agenda

Source: Taylor Financial

3. Begin with Horsesmouth planning checklists

You will see near the top of the agenda that we reference the Horsesmouth 2020 Last-Chance Financial Planning Checklist (show in Figure 2 below). We send the checklist to client prior to the meeting to get their thinking started about the issues connected with year-end planning. Then at the meeting we can bring it up on screen and it allows us to start off asking the right questions. Also, don’t forget the checklist about planning opportunities during the pandemic, as many of the items covered there are still relevant.

Figure 2: 2020 Last-Chance Financial Planning Checklist

Source: Taylor Financial

4. Icons instantly present the financial plan review

Once we complete the portfolio review, we also review their financial plan. But instead of overwhelming the client with the entire plan or the lengthy cover memo that we have traditionally used, we made the review more visual. We created a set of icons to demonstrate status and success ratios so that we can better “bottom-line it” for people (see it embedded in the client letter below).

It wasn’t clear to me that clients were reading through all of the information (some are, but many are not), so I thought we needed to do better. We recently rolled the icons out—using them both on screen during meetings and in written communications—and the clients love it! We still provide the cover memorandum and the full powerpoint, but for many clients, this visual summary is exactly what they need.

Below is a sample of how we present the icons to clients in an email. This particular note went out earlier on in the pandemic, and this approach could be used to provide connection and reassurance in any time of market volatility.

Dear Client,

We hope everything is well and that you are staying safe. There has been so much going on with the economy and the markets that we wanted to update your plan and share it with you. Based on our review, we believe that as long as you continue to make progress, you will stay on track to achieve your goals. Here is a quick overview of your plan as of today.

I have also attached the Monte Carlo, Retirement Assets, Balance Sheet and Guaranteed Income Reports for you to better visualize your financial plan outlook (as of yesterday’s close)….

5. Last but not least, don’t forget to talk taxes!

You will notice that embedded in the materials above are lots of opportunities to address tax issues. We discuss the SECURE Act when I see that there is a large retirement account. Up until now, we have discussed both the Trump and Biden tax plans. We review their Holistiplan Report and discuss their tax return. We discuss RMDs. The triggers are all there, whether on the client agenda, on my internal agenda, or on both.

In conclusion, when you pull all of this information together, it makes for a much more interesting and creative approach to meeting with clients. And if you ask me—and my clients—it’s just what the times call for.

Debra Taylor, CPA/PFS, JD, CDFA, is the principal and founder of Taylor Financial Group, LLC, a wealth management firm in Franklin Lakes, N.J. Debra has won many industry honors and is the author of My Journey to $1 Million: The Systems and Processes to Get You There, a book about industry best practices. She is also a co-creator of the Savvy Tax Planning program.

Comments

Hi Debra! What format do you do the visual chart in? Did you have a graphic designer design it and then your team fills in the amounts or is this a program or what? I love the visual pop it has for their overall picture.
Debra, I see where you use Holistiplan and Income Solver but do you also use eMoney or Money Guide Pro for your financial planning?
Yes, we use EMONEY as the core financial planning tool. We have rebranded it WealthMatch.

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