Written by Elizabeth Farquhar for the Center for Services Leadership
Edward Jones works with its clients to build portfolios that are based on client goals and timelines. Building personal relationships one at a time is at the core of the work of its 19,000 financial advisors for more than 7 million clients throughout North America.
Throughout its history, Edward Jones leveraged face-to-face contacts to build personal client experiences. Trust is created and nurtured between financial advisor and client as they work together. Then in March came the COVID-19 stay-at-home and social distancing orders and those in-person meetings became difficult to execute.
Center for Services Leadership (CSL) Advisory Board Member Steve Carani is the Edward Jones principal responsible for the firm’s Service division. His team supports the firm’s more than 15,000 branch locations with account processing and other service needs that help branch teams serve their clients. When the pandemic hit, Carani’s team worked with everyone from the leadership in headquarters to the staff in branches around the country to enable the firm to work with clients remotely. In the process, Carani learned that transforming the client experience to virtual platforms required education for all.
In March, about 20 percent of full-time associates already were working from home, Carani said. The firm had some systems in place but moving nearly 50,000 associates required addressing capacity- a job complicated by the fact that the firm is in a regulated industry. “We went from 15,000 to 50,000 remote connections in a matter of days,” Carani said. At the same time, Carani explained, Edward Jones is an essential business so branches remained open while restricting visitor access.
Migrating the in-person experience to virtual meant climbing a learning curve – for clients as well as associates. The transformation included the adoption of new technology and communicating virtually. Carani said client-facing technology was introduced to give clients easier access to the information that helps them evaluate their progress toward their financial goals. Armed with those insights, clients engaged with financial advisors using virtual tools such as WebEx video conferencing and Zoom rather than meeting in-person at a branch location. Some clients are more experienced and comfortable with this new environment than others – hence the need for education.
For Edward Jones associates, the learning curve involved understanding how virtual communication differs. “How do we deliver an in-person experience virtually?” Carani asked. Branch teams needed to develop different listening skills, including how to pick up the nonverbal cues. “Our teams are helping financial advisors think through that process,” he said. Teams experience the same challenges when they work together. Carani described the challenges to the planning process, when a virus that continues to spread moves the horizon. Planning meetings – formerly dynamic working sessions around a table in a conference room – now take place on numbers of screens and virtual whiteboards. It’s a transition, and Edward Jones is working through it.
Challenging, yes. But also “incredibly rewarding,” Carani said. “Our mission is to make a meaningful difference in the lives of our clients and the communities we serve. Part of that mission is to prepare our clients for the unexpected,” he commented. And 2020 has been a year full of opportunity to do just that.
The link to the bio for Steve Carani, is here: Steve Carani, Principal Service Division Edward Jones