The COVID-19 crisis has had a largely positive effect on advice businesses through encouraging them to try new ways of working and improving their engagement with clients, according to new research.
The COVID-19 Business Confidence Survey, conducted by Momentum Intelligence in partnership with My Business, surveyed over 2,800 individuals across seven different professions, including almost 300 business owners and employees in financial services.
The survey found that 69 per cent of financial services businesses said they would keep the changes made to their business during the pandemic going in the long term, which was significantly more than a number of other industries including mortgage broking, where 55 per cent said they would keep changes made, and 57 per cent of real estate businesses.
Comments made by respondents around the specific changes they had implemented in their businesses illustrated that many financial services firms had developed closer relationships with their clients and improved their use of digital marketing and communication.
One respondent said their practice had “increased digital communication [and] increased customer service staff” during the crisis, while another said their business was “developing a strong online presence”. A third respondent said their firm had made “more frequent contact to clients regarding the economy and asset values”.
The research also revealed that the crisis had been the catalyst for many businesses to offer flexible working arrangements for the first time, with 35 per cent of financial services workers saying it was their first time working from home, compared with 29 per cent of workers across all professional services markets.
More financial services workers had also reported their experience working from home as a positive one, with 82 per cent saying they were satisfied with working remotely, compared with 78 per cent across all professions.
And financial services businesses were in no rush to get employees back to work, with just 16 per cent of employees saying they had started to come back into the office, compared with 20 per cent of workers in all professional services markets.
In addition, financial services and advice businesses recorded a smaller percentage of staff remaining in the office throughout the crisis, with just 11 per cent continuing to come in as normal compared with 18 per cent across all industries.
Those who did work full-time from the office were usually practice principals whose other staff were working from home, or sole traders who were able to effectively social distance at work, according to specific comments made by survey respondents.
Longer hours taking their toll
While financial services organisations had embraced working from home, this also had its downside, including higher client expectations and longer hours as a result of employees being more available.
Respondents commented that they were working longer hours, with one stating they were currently working “9am to 3am seven days a week”, while another said they were expected to attend “7am or 7pm Zoom meetings”.
While employees had gained more time from not having to commute to the office, a significant proportion of this time was being spent doing extra work, with financial services staff reporting that 22 per cent of their previous commute time was now spent working, compared with 18 per cent of commute time across all industries.
This increased availability added up to an average 1.28 extra working hours per week, the second highest across all industries surveyed other than mortgage broking.
Increased workloads seemed to be having a particularly harsh effect on advice business owners, 32 per cent of which reported average or below-average mental health, compared with 22 per cent of their employees.
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