Aaron Cirksena is the founder and CEO of MDRN Capital.

Just a few years ago, I’d never have thought that an entirely virtual financial advisory firm could be possible, let alone beneficial. But the Covid-19 pandemic transformed our industry overnight, like many others, and now both advisors and clients are far more comfortable working together without ever meeting in person.

Before the pandemic, less than 8% of financial advisors worked with the majority of their clients remotely; in 2022, around one-third of advisors worked with most of their clients completely virtually, according to a survey from SmartAsset. I’ve been surprised by just how fast and comprehensive this shift has been. People suddenly realized that, instead of driving 20 minutes each way to their advisor’s office for a meeting, they could get their questions answered just as well with a 10-minute video call from their living room.

My firm is 100% virtual, and my team and I work with clients across the country. Some people still want to shake their advisor’s hand and sit across the table from them to discuss their finances, but I find that this is increasingly rare. Most potential clients I meet want an advisor who is competent and communicative and can help them reach their goals.

But choosing the right financial advisor is still an important decision and shouldn’t be taken lightly. If you’re thinking about working with a virtual financial advisor for the first time, I recommend taking these four steps to make sure you find someone who is the right fit for your individual needs and objectives.

1. Understand What’s Important To You

Start by asking yourself two key questions:

• How much does an in-person relationship really matter to me?

Gauge your comfort level with virtual interactions. If you determine that you do want to go to a brick-and-mortar firm and work with someone face to face, stick with the traditional route. If you decide you’re willing to give up in-person meetings for other benefits, such as cost savings and convenience, move forward in your search for a virtual advisor.

• What services do I need in my particular situation?

Look for an advisor who works specifically with people in circumstances similar to yours and will be adept at helping you achieve your personal goals. For example, my firm specializes in financial services for retirees and pre-retirees. They are approaching or already in what we call the distribution phase of life, which is more complicated than the accumulation phase earlier in life, when people generally have more flexibility and risk tolerance with their money. Think of it this way: If you needed arthroscopic knee surgery, you would want to see a knee surgeon, not a general practitioner.

2. Do Your Research

If you work with a virtual advisor, it’s more important than ever to do your due diligence. Research potential advisors’ background and credentials with tools available from the SEC or the Better Business Bureau. Search for client testimonials and Google reviews, and see if advisors are featured in any publications you trust.

3. Weigh The Value Proposition

When you have put together a short list of financial advisors, assess the tangible value each offers. Virtual advisory firms operate without the burden of expensive office spaces and unnecessary staff, and they should pass some of these efficiencies and cost savings on to you as a client.

Which services do they offer? What is their fee structure? Would they provide everything you need, or would you need to seek out additional providers? Many traditional brick-and-mortar firms only offer investment planning services unless you are considered an ultra-high-net-worth individual, whereas a virtual firm may provide additional services, such as tax, estate and retirement distribution planning, for a wider range of clients and for lower fees.

Don’t forget to take into account other benefits in your calculations, including time savings and convenience. How much do you value easy online booking, virtual meetings and streamlined communications?

4. Find Someone You Like

Ultimately, you hope to build a long-term relationship with your financial advisor, so it’s important to feel comfortable and compatible with them. Schedule interviews with a few advisors you like on paper to see if you have a good connection. Is it a good personality and values fit? What is their communication style? Can they explain complex topics in a way that you understand? Do they answer your questions and put you at ease? Trust your instincts, and choose an advisor you look forward to working with.

Virtual financial services are more widely available today because of the pandemic, but many clients now prefer them because of their value, efficiency and convenience. With a little bit of introspection and research, you can make an informed decision and find your ideal virtual advisor.

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