In the late 1970s Buggles wrote a song, which is generally considered to reference the demise of radio at the behest of video, and more specifically television. Fast-forward 30 years and of course, the internet has done the same to television. But, neither radio or television are dead – both have adapted and both are thriving.
2020 saw the rise of the video conference or Zoom call, but is this to stay or will we revert to good old-fashioned face to face meetings? There is no doubt that video meetings are far more efficient; the organiser doesn’t have to determine where everyone is, or a book a meeting room and the attendees don’t have to travel to get there. Both of which have resulted in more calls and meetings, which most likely results in improved productivity. But of course, this has come with a new-found condition, which has become increasingly prevalent: Zoom fatigue.
So, will video calls prevail and become the new normal, or will we revert to face-to-face meetings? I think it is a fine balance. Yes, we can “meet” more clients and it is certainly more cost effective, but like many technologies, they have their downside.
So much of the value we can offer our clients come from those conversations in the lift, or the chitchat prior to a meeting. This is where we learn about a client’s real wealth challenges and, in most cases, this does not happen on a video call.
Secondly, no matter which platform you are using, there is always a small delay, or even the dreaded buffering. This can remove any spontaneity from a conversation and reduce the chance of us noticing any nuances. For this reason, alone, I prefer a telephone conference over the video, which tends to be more fluid and certainly more reliable.
Finally, I have experienced many instances in my career when clients have told me extremely personal issues, more often than not health-related, which have an enormous impact on their lives and therefore, how their wealth should be structured and more specifically, how their portfolio should be managed. This is an area of increasing importance, rightly in my view, for the regulator, who is looking to ensure investment managers bake in a process, such that all customers receive good outcomes regardless of any personal or financial sensitivities. Of course, for us to pick up on any sensitive matters, which covers a whole range of issues, we need to be in contact with our clients and I would question whether many would be comfortable telling me such important issues over the phone or video. And, for the aforementioned reasons, I think I would find it harder to spot any signals.
Nothing beats face-to-face meetings in my opinion and whilst I’ll be taking many lessons from the last 18 months, moving to video calls, will not be one of them – unless of course a client wants it, as flexibility is the key to offering a personalised service.
Paul Tyndall, Investment Director, JM Finn