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Digitally disconnect? Advisers can’t find the time

Jun 6, 2014 @ 12:01 am

By Liz Skinner

Advisers, practice management, technology, client services
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Spending too much time digitally connected to the office makes it challenging to relax and recharge, yet the desire to be responsive to clients typically outweighs any of those concerns for financial advisers.

“It’s a weird time in our lives where the same device we’re using as an alarm clock to wake up in the morning also has incoming messages from work,” said Charles Bennett Sachs, principal of Private Wealth Counsel. “It’s like a package sitting there that you can’t decide whether to open or not.”

At times when he’s read a work e-mail in the evening or over the weekend, it’s contained something that’s bothered him during the rest of his non-working hours, he said. Though most issues can’t be acted on until normal business hours, he still wants to see the e-mail when it’s sent to make sure there isn’t a client crisis that requires immediate attention.

The discussion of whether professionals need time away from their business e-mail to regenerate has mounted, as U.S. firms such as Boston Consulting Group and Bandwidth have set policies aimed at keeping employees disconnected during all or some non-work hours.

Some countries are taking it even further. In France, for example, new rules ban work e-mail outside of office hours for some sectors.

A May 2014 Gallup poll found that about half of workers who “frequently” e-mail for work during their off-hours reported having stress “a lot of the day.” That poll of 4,475 working adults, however, also found that those who most frequently e-mail for work outside business hours rate their lives better than those who do not.

But Leslie Perlow, the Harvard Business School professor who helped the Boston Consulting Group develop a program that guarantees employees certain e-mail-free time, said in her blog that research shows people have found disconnecting allowed them to be more productive and fulfilled.

For advisers, though, it’s especially difficult to disconnect. Clients often communicate with their advisers during non-work hours — when clients are able to focus on issues such as their personal finances. Therefore, it’s natural that it is during those hours that they send questions and requests to their adviser, Mr. Sachs said.

Ted Jenkin, founder of oXYGen Financial Inc., said his firm likes to have their employees plugged in on social media pretty much all the time. It’s especially important for his firm to be available at all hours because they target Generation X and Y clients, he said.

“I recognize there are some companies trying to get people away from technology altogether,” Mr. Jenkin said. “But dealing with the X and Y generations, it’s very difficult because they have a demand for a 24-hour response time.”

Some advisers, however, said they do set limits of sorts on the access clients have to them off-hours.

Catherine Latto, president of Latto and Associates Inc., said she doesn’t have access to her e-mail at home and she purposefully doesn’t print her cellphone number on her business cards. However, her home phone number is publicly available if clients need to call her, she said.

“If you really need me, you can call me, but don’t text me because I won’t see it until Monday,” Ms. Latto tells clients. “It’s just a respect thing.”

Kathy Fish, president of Fish and Associates, is leaving this week for a vacation rafting in the Grand Canyon and will be totally disconnected for about eight days. She’s had other breaks in the past couple years during which she has “unplugged,” and she found it to be a terrific respite.

“It’s a great break,” she said.

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