It didn’t take long for Robert Frances, CEO of Montreal-based Peak Financial Group, to realize that Covid-19 would require him to rethink the way Peak does business.
“Around March 8 or 9, we started to look at this thing and thought we had an emergency coming,” Frances said in an interview. “By the 10th or so, we pulled out our disaster recovery plan, we looked through it and updated it for the reality of what this was. By March 13 we were full-blown in emergency conditions.”
Since the week of March 16, all Peak employees — including 1,500 advisors — have been working from home. While housebound, many of Peak’s advisors have found that video conferencing is a great way to put in some virtual face-time with their clients.
“Many advisors were already using [video-conferencing] technology beforehand,” Frances said. “This just accelerated [the process] for those who weren’t using it or for clients who weren’t using it.”
Peak has both an MFDA arm and an IIROC arm. Both self-regulatory organizations require advisors to ensure that video calls with clients remain confidential.
“The main regulatory issue that comes into play here is client privacy and confidentiality, which must be maintained,” Ian Strulovitch, director of public affairs with the MFDA, wrote in an email to Investment Executive. “In current times, that would mean not having these types of meetings at the kitchen table while other family members are around, for example.”
IIROC stated that advisors holding virtual meetings are expected to adhere to the same standards required of in-person and phone meetings.
“All IIROC-regulated individuals need to deal fairly and openly with their clients, and to keep all their records and books updated to properly account for business activities, regardless of how they meet with clients,” Andrea Zviedris, IIROC’s manager, media and public affairs, wrote in an email. “Advisors must also continue to ensure their methods of communication are acceptable to their firms.”
Even advisors who are less technically inclined have been video conferencing with clients in recent weeks.
“I’m very old-school — I finally got a laptop in November,” said Marie DeLauretis, a financial planner with DeLauretis Wealth Management Inc. in Calgary. “I didn’t even have a computer at home. If I had to work, I had to go into the office.”
But DeLauretis, an MFDA member, has adjusted to working from home quickly. She’s now taking video calls through WhatsApp, Skype and Zoom, always ensuring that her clients’ personal information remains confidential.
“I always let the client know where I am in the house and that it’s private,” DeLauretis said.
Once a technophobe, DeLauretis now looks forward to hosting webinars with clients. She had planned to host an in-person seminar in May, but now says she’ll host the gathering online.
“I’m seriously looking at webinars — I think that’s important right now,” she said. “I’m super excited — I’ll get to hit 30 clients or more at one time.”
But while video conferencing makes it easier to see your clients face-to-face, some clients may prefer lower-tech methods of communication, Strulovitch said.
“It is also worth noting that good old-fashioned phone calls remain an option too so long as the privacy and security concerns are addressed, and client identity can be confirmed,” Strulovitch said. “Many clients may actually prefer this as a mode of communication over virtual meetings, so it’s a good idea to confirm with clients what they are most comfortable with.”