Written By: Sarah M. Ellis, M.S., AFC®
Before COVID-19, I did not offer financial counseling virtually. Occasionally, during a phone call, I would provide financial education. But the majority of my financial counseling meetings were held in person. Flipping from in-person to virtual financial counseling was not as simple as I had assumed it would be.
Challenge #1: Varying Technology Competencies
I consider myself fairly technologically savvy. I don’t know it all, but I can generally figure a program out. I can follow instructions and I am not afraid to try new tools. This attitude was beneficial since I had to learn several new programs quickly to successfully offer virtual financial counseling and education.
However, I made some assumptions when it came to clients. When a client responded to a meeting invite with “which number do I call because Florida isn’t listed.” I realized I had expected my clients to have the same level of understanding as I did. Editing the meeting invite hadn’t even occurred to me. However, due to varying degrees of understanding and competencies meeting invites need to be simple and specific. This also should be considered when communicating with a client over email.
It is much easier to overcome technology barriers when meeting face to face. It can be challenging to meet the specific needs of clients when providing virtual counseling. For example, you can mail paper materials to a client however, if the client has questions or needs assistance with completing tasks it can be difficult to help them without seeing the problem.
Challenge #2: Access to Technology
Another issue that I had to overcome was access to technology. Not every client has access to (reliable) internet or a device (computer or tablet). Think about how you might serve a hearing-impaired client that lives in a small travel trailer, and does not have internet, a device, or a hearing-impaired telephone when in-person meetings are not an option. These are very real issues that seemed trivial prior to COVID. Accessibility is always important, but I’ve never had to solve a problem like this before. The client and I brainstormed to find a reasonable solution.
You may have several different ways you think this barrier can be overcome, but will it work for the client? If the client does not have access to a device then virtual meeting programs with closed captioning are not an option.
These are stressful times for both you and your clients. I learned that I had to be more flexible and think outside of the box when working with clients virtually. Meeting clients where they were being necessary for successful outcomes. For now, I will continue to offer virtual counseling. In the future, I will offer both virtual and face-to face counseling. Although I was initially worried that virtual counseling would not be as effective as face-to-face, clients that are receiving virtual counseling are just as engaged and taking steps to improve their financial life.