Even tech-driven practices have tech-averse clients

Tips on working with elderly clients who have not grown up with the Internet, e-mail and secure portals

Aug 27, 2014 @ 9:52 am

By Sheryl Rowling

technology, online, web, elderly, clients
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As advisers become more technologically proficient, we need to remember that not all of our clients are keeping up. We make efforts to attract and keep new-generation investors, attempting to compete against robo-advisers. But what about elderly clients who have not grown up with the Internet, e-mail and secure portals?

In my practice, I have three types of older clients:

• Those who have not embraced technology at all

• Those who are dipping their toes into technology

• Those who have jumped into technology

The latter category does not need addressing. Although older than some clients, they are able to handle all the technology that we advisers use with our clients, including e-mail, scanned documents, secure portals and e-forms. The first two categories require more attention.

(See how Sheryl is Using technology to beat the robo-advisers at their own game)

We actually have clients who don't even own a computer! Without access to e-mail, we can't provide anything electronically. We need to mail hard copies of quarterly reports and newsletters — at an extra cost —, send letters and make phone calls instead of communicating via the Internet. It's inconvenient and we must be careful about private information. When we complete tax returns for these clients, we send them by FedEx, ask them to pick the forms up or deliver them personally.

For clients who are new to technology, we try to encourage them to become more comfortable. One of our clients was afraid for us to send her e-mails, even though she had an account set up. Over time, we were able to gain her trust by assuring that we would never e-mail personal information without using a secure portal. Of course, we had to train her on the portal, but it was time well spent. From there, we added electronic newsletters. And now, she is even OK with opening attachments! We haven't reached the point of sending .PDF files for her signature. She doesn't trust electronic signatures and doesn't own a scanner. At least we are making progress.

As our firms become more and more technology-oriented, we must still have the ability to communicate with clients who are less technically inclined. We must be diligent about security and privacy even when using snail mail.

Sheryl Rowling is chief executive of Total Rebalance Expert and principal at Rowling & Associates. She considers herself a non-techie user of technology.

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