Innovation | 04.24.19
With Branch Traffic Slowing, Advisors Engage More Clients Remotely
Members of the Northern Colorado community aren't all snowboarders and rock climbers. They have professions and financial responsibilities, just like everybody else. Of course, Coloradans do enjoy being outdoors; that’s why foot traffic at Boulder-headquartered Elevations Credit Union, which has 13 branches in the state, was never exactly overwhelming.
The shift to digitization over the past few years has made the slowdown even more noticeable.
In-house financial planning seminars still take place and attendance remains solid. Increasingly, though, younger credit union members have requested financial educational events held online via WebEx. Now these regularly scheduled webinars are starting to take off in popularity.
"We've definitely had to embrace new tools and techniques to serve our customers more remotely," said John Marx, VP Wealth Management and Wealth Management Services at Elevations.
Whether through video conferencing, online collaboration portals, Skype, FaceTime, secure document signing software, interactive planning tools or myriad other apps and platforms, the Elevations advisor team has upped its games in terms of remote service capabilities.
Supported by a partnership with CUSO Financial Services, Marx and his cadre of eight advisors have access to pretty much whatever tools that customers identify as being preferred.
"You just can't sit back and harvest referrals from people coming into the branch," said Kevin Mummau, CUSO Financial's Head of Client Relationships. "As an industry, we have to face up to that reality and start to get creative. That means tech, apps, social media, you name it. The mobile service trend is only going to pick up."
Research suggests that he’s right. Consumer visits to retail bank branches could decline by as much as 36% by 2022, with mobile transactions rising 121% during the same period, according to CACI Limited, a London-based information systems and marketing solutions provider.
More banking clients are increasingly accessing accounts via mobile devices. The typical consumer will visit a bank branch just four times a year by 2022, down from around seven visits currently, according to research from CACI recently cited by Financial Brand CEO Jeffry Pilcher.
Elevations' Marx said he started to notice this remote service trend picking up speed about three years ago. The shift was that much more dramatic for the organization, considering the non-enclosed scenic choices that the Boulder area boasts, and also for another reason altogether: The credit union is connected with the student body of the University of Colorado. That's a new crop of freshmen rotating through every year.
Remote Financial Services Take Off
A few years ago, Robert Cribbs, one of Marx's top advisors in terms of networks and books of client business, recognized the shift toward more clients desiring remote service. And at the same time, Cribbs realized something else — life was short and that it was time to chase down a fisherman's dream of moving his young family to New Zealand.
"He came to me with the idea of continuing to serve his Boulder clients from the other side of the world and my initial thought was that he was out of his tree," Marx recalled of the day in 2017 Cribbs laid out his vision. "I figured I was losing one of my top guys."
But within a few months, Cribbs had made the move and between both parties being willing to make it work, and the support of CUSO's technology infrastructure, they were able to do just that.
"After a decade of sitting in a branch meeting with clients face to face, it was a huge leap of faith to step away and work remotely," Cribbs said by email.
His clients can still reach him by phone or email. “And, I'm actually more available to talk now than I ever was sitting in the branch,” he said. Rather than balancing call-backs with in person appointments, Cribbs explained, he can focus on providing clients with extra care and responsiveness.
“Furthermore, I can focus on financial planning,” he said. “Rather than getting folks in and out of the office quickly, I can take as much time as I need to refine my advice, building quality and detailed financial plans for all my clients.
"Don't get me wrong, I believe face-to-face meeting with clients is important."
Recognizing that actual face time remains an essential component to any relationship-based business, Cribbs sets aside three visits per year to come back to Colorado just so he can sit down with his clients.
Some things, after all, are best done in person. Which is why Elevations still holds live seminars at their branches.
"People still want that human interaction,” Marx said. "Free wine helps, too.”
Rich Blake A veteran journalist based in New York City, Blake has covered the financial world for numerous publications, including Institutional Investor, ABCNews.com and Reuters. Blake was a co-founder and executive editor of Trader Monthly magazine. The Buffalo native is the author of three nonfiction books, including “The Day Donny Herbert Woke Up,” which is currently being adapted into a motion picture. In 2004, Blake was nominated for a National Magazine Award in the Reporting category for Institutional Investor.