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Enhancing and innovating communication with clients during COVID-19

First published by Financial Reporter

We are now entering week seven of the lockdown with – at the time of writing – limited understanding of how much further this current situation will last. While other countries, who appear to be further progressed with their own COVID-19 battle plan, do appear to be moving slowly back towards some sense of normality, we have to remember that the UK is different and will have its own path to follow.

It means that the existing restrictions could apply for much longer than we would like, and advisory firms in particular will need to ensure their contingency plans are not just fit for purpose over a three-week period, but perhaps three months…perhaps even longer than that.

During this crisis – and it seems an obvious point to make but one worth reiterating – it’s been clear how important quality communication has been in terms of helping all those individuals at risk and getting buy-in from the wider population about the best ways to stay safe and help the NHS.

Let’s be clear, it has by no means been perfect, but when you get the communication right, it goes a long way to providing peace of mind and ensuring that large-scale mistakes, with much wider ramifications, are not made.

It’s really no different in our sector in terms of the way firms communicate with their client base and with potential clients, because without that communication channel being open and utilised, there is a real danger that – left to their own devices and with considerable worries about their own financial situation – borrowers might well make decisions that are ultimately not in their best interests.

We might be coming to terms with the new short-term reality of lockdown but there could be a sense amongst clients that the longer this goes on, the more action they need to take.

There has, of course, been a massive upsurge in the number of mortgage borrowers asking for, and receiving, three-month mortgage payment holidays but as that period expires, at what point might individual clients feel this might not be enough to sustain them financially?

There may well be a sense from certain clients that they need to take a metaphorical ‘hatchet’ to their monthly outgoings and, of course, in the long-term this could actually make things worse rather than better.

The average family will have a large number of regular direct debits coming out of the bank account(s) each month, and what we all need to be alert to is the risk that protection policies are cut especially at a time when they could be more important than ever.

Regular communication is vital – at any other time, this might simply be deemed ‘marketing’, but it has taken on a greater importance as the repercussions of this pandemic have got greater and greater. At its base level, it’s simply a call to action to clients to think carefully, and discuss with their adviser, before they go any further with a financial decision.

It’s unclear yet whether the mortgage payment holiday period might be extended, but even if not, there could be other forbearance options available, which also allow the client to keep their mortgage payments ticking over and maintain their protection cover. It has been great to see life companies recently announcing ways in which protection policy premiums can be altered, as an alternative to cancellation.

Given that, joining up the mortgage and protection conversations is an imperative. We’ve altered the capability of our Revolution software system to aid our AR firms in enhancing their delivery of the protection advice journey, as well as providing additional template letters and e-mail communications that our members can send to clients via Touchpoint, the marketing functionality within Revolution. This helps our members’ clients become fully aware of the reviews available and the benefits that might come from speaking/communicating with their adviser right now, rather than letting this pass.

The same support has been given to encourage advisers to contact upcoming remortgage customers. Again, the onus is on communicating the current situation, how it differs from the pre-COVID environment, and therefore the reasoning behind why an early review of their remortgage options might be beneficial. A lot of course has changed in a short period of time, and if firms can touch base regularly, offering a clear view of what is available, they can up the certainty that large numbers of clients will be seeking.

The important point here – especially when advisers themselves will also be concerned about the situation – is not to go quiet in the eyes of your clients. That means, enhancing and innovating communication with clients – I read recently of one adviser holding a virtual afternoon tea party on Zoom for 35 of their clients – and making sure they do not make decisions unadvised.

But it also means talking to your networks, distributors and support services as well – communication is always a two-way street and, certainly from our perspective, we want to hear from firms about what they need, what would make them more confident and what allows them to keep business flowing. If we can keep those channels open, then we have a much better chance of working through this period and ensuring we’re all in the best place possible as we move back towards ‘normality’.

Rob Clifford, Chief Executive of Stonebridge

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