Do you feel continually overwhelmed by small tasks that consume much of your day, but which do not add much value to your client’s experience? What if you were able to outsource some of these time-consuming tasks and focus on more profitable exercises, without the potentially steep costs of hiring a full-time assistant?

If those prospects whet your appetite, you might want to consider hiring a virtual assistant.

“Outsourcing some of those taxing and time consuming tasks to a virtual assistant for 10 or more hours per week would save you a lot of time and grief,” says Mark Tauschek, a consulting analyst at Info-Tech Research Group, based in London, Ont. “As well, you don’t have to pay a full-time employee or have an office to set them up in.”

No doubt, hiring a full-time, onsite assistant can be an expensive proposition for advisors, given the costs associated with training, continuing education and overhead. In contrast, virtual assistants are independent contractors who provide various business support services from a remote office. Under this model, advisors can pay for as much or as little support as they need.

“It is a burgeoning industry and can be appropriate in a lot of situations for a financial advisor,” says Tauschek. “It is one of those perfect situations where you might not need someone in the office but you do need help with scheduling meetings, [social media] management or other basic administrative tasks.”

Through technological advances, such as access to cheap broadband internet connections, and tools like Skype, virtual assistants have become a much more viable option for advisors in the last few years.

While the idea to have a contract with someone who supports your practice virtually might seem foreign, it is an option that should not be discounted, says Stephanie Holmes-Winton, CEO of the Money Finder in Halifax.

She says that advisors who are looking to hire new assistants must think carefully about whether the value of the assistant’s productivity will exceed the costs of supporting them and getting them up to speed.

Having a virtual assistant – which Holmes-Winton herself does – can help simplify this equation.

“I typically just show them a list of the projects and tasks I am trying to get done in given week and they get them done,” she says. “Sometimes they even offer simpler ways of solving problems and I don’t have to overly instruct. It’s a huge benefit from having to manage people and their day-to-day lives.”

In many ways, Holmes-Winton says the process for hiring a virtual assistant would be much the same as hiring a new assistant. She recommends that advisors look to specialized firms that hire virtual assistants as their employees. This is advantageous because instead of hiring individual employees, an advisor is hiring an entire company with entrepreneurial expertise.

Rita Cartwright, owner of Phoenix, Ari.-based RJ’s Internet Marketing Services, which offers virtual assistant services, says that advisors should not think of virtual or online assistants as just fancied-up secretaries.

She says that virtual assistants have carved out a strong niche in more technical areas of late, such as website design, social media marketing and blog creation, in addition to their traditional clerical and administrative table stakes.

By removing these time-consuming tasks, she says advisors are able to get back to basics, which means spending more time advising and working one-on-one with clients.

A key concern for advisors considering hiring a virtual assistant might be the security and confidentiality of their information. However, Cartwright says that concern is addressed in the confidentiality agreement.

“It is spelled out in big and bold and in caps. I’m a business owner and I don’t want to take the chance in ruining my reputation,” she says.

Holmes-Winton says there is very little difference in the level of security protection an advisor would have over a virtual assistant versus a regular, in-house, employee – perhaps even more so.

“An advisor would have control over the kind of information they share with their virtual assistant,” she says. “An employee has more access to files in your office and could email themselves client files.”

So, will virtual assistants eventually usurp the role of the in-house assistant?

“It is quite an ecosystem but they should be able to co-exist,” says Tauschek.

Given the client-centric nature of the advisory channel, having an in-house assistant with a smile and handshake to greet clients still can make a good case, he says.

Still, he hints that the virtual assistant market will likely evolve within the next decade – as companies like Apple and Google attempt to add virtual task-management tools to their platforms.

But for now, that is likely the next frontier for advisors.

In the interim, he takes a much more pragmatic view of hiring the right assistant:

“It comes back to knowing what you want them to do and finding the best person to provide you with that support – regardless of where they are stationed.”

This is the third article in a three-part series on hiring the right assistant.