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Editor’s Column: The WFH Financial Planning conundrum

 

To work from home, or not to work from home? – that is the question. It’s certainly a question many Financial Planners are wrangling with at the moment.

I’ve adapted a famous Shakespearian quote because it reminded me of a book I read recently about Elizabethan England around the time of Shakespeare’s life.

One risky aspect of life in Elizabethan England was the number of plagues, or virus pandemics as we would now call them. In fact viruses swept the country numerous times during Shakespeare’s life, closing theatres and public venues, particularly in London. When a virus swept the capital, London went into Elizabethan lockdown.

During these outbreaks Shakespeare would have spent much time outside London until the plagues had past. He would have worked from home in Stratford or other people’s homes around the country. Working from home has been around a very long time.

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For Financial Planners the question now is whether to work from home permanently or not. There are obvious lifestyle benefits but these are not for everyone.

Those in favour of home working have also extolled the productivity benefits but I’m not so sure. Yes there is a benefit from lack of interruptions but never leaving home means not seeing clients face to face, missing the ideas and spark from working with colleagues in an office and generally engaging with the world face to face at conferences, events and the like. Younger workers too may find the enforced isolation for indefinite periods a real challenge.

A survey from Openwork this week suggests that concern over the financial ‘damage’ from Covid-19 is spurring many more people to consider financial advice. Interestingly, the survey found, many of these new potential customers want face to face advice. A Zoom meeting is not a permanent replacement for meeting clients face to face so the profession must move towards reinstating face to face meetings where safe to do so.

Covid-19 ‘damage’ boosting demand for financial advice

I’ve spoken to several Financial Planners recently who tell me that online video meetings are working well but most admitted they missed the human contact a face-to-face meeting provides and I can understand that.

A steady return to the office, part time or full time, seems to make most sense for planners and long term is probably in the best interests of most people in terms of wellbeing and mental health. Video calling will clearly be a permanent part of the Financial Planning ‘mix’ from now on but it is unlikely to be the best way long term to work with clients.

ONS research this week found that 62% of employees had returned to work full time or part time and only 20% are now working from home full time. I suspect that reflects a steady move back to the office and many planners will follow this trend albeit the latest spike may slow that down.

The pandemic has spurred tech use for many planners and that’s a positive. It now needs to be built into the Financial Planning process but planners should not lose sight of what makes them special.

 

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Kevin O’Donnell is editor of Financial Planning Today and a financial journalist with 30 years experience.  This topical comment on the Financial Planning news appears most weeks. Follow @FPT_Kevin 

 

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