Advisors See a Future for Webinars, But In-Person Events Convert Better

Educational seminars are tried-and-true tools for financial advisor prospecting. Whether it’s the oft-maligned “rubber chicken” restaurant meal or a more casual presentation at an office, library or community center, in-person events can lead to business.

The pandemic changed that, forcing advisors to approach client prospecting differently. Naturally, many turned to online webinars, which inherently have a different level of engagement than an in-person presentation.

Beth Wahlig, director of socially responsible investing at MRA Advisory Group in Parsippany, New Jersey, says online seminars helped her reach a wider audience.

“This has been helpful in getting new appointments with clients from other states but has not translated into new appointments from clients within my geographical area,” she says.

She adds that many prospective clients are being more cautious about making financial decisions. That may mean waiting until the pandemic improves to hire a financial advisor.

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Identifying Qualified Prospects

When it comes to attendance converting to appointments, some advisors are seeing webinars perform as well as in-person seminars.

Nicole Albano, marketing executive at Global View Capital Advisors in Waukesha, Wisconsin, continued to use the seminar marketing system she developed for live events, but applied it to online presentations. She says it’s still a matter of identifying qualified prospects, inviting them to an online event, and having dynamic and relatable speakers.

“By already creating value and rapport with our audience, those in attendance will be more open to meet,” she says, especially if they have a need addressed during the presentation.

However, many in the industry say it can be a challenge to create the same level of engagement online as in a live environment. Anyone who’s been in a Zoom meeting knows it’s easier to mentally check out or multitask. Some participants turn their cameras off and attempt to listen while they do something else. In other cases, only the presenter is on camera, or showing his or her screen, and attendees can easily let their attention wander.

That’s very different from the experience of sitting in front of a live presenter, who can better read the audience and adjust a presentation if needed.

[See: 15 Financial Advisor Marketing Tips]

Smaller In-Person Events Perform Well

Mitchell Whitney, CEO of Whitney & Associates in Des Moines, Iowa, says webinars don’t convert prospective clients as well. Whitney, who runs an insurance marketing organization, helps advisors create presentations with the goal of setting appointments.

“The smaller in-person events are still performing better, as far as conversions to appointments and also production from events,” he says, referring to actual business resulting from an event.

“Our target demographic still likes a face-to-face meeting when discussing things as important as their financial well-being and retirement,” Whitney says. “The virtual sessions lead to a longer, more drawn-out appointment process. This can lead to appointments falling off and loss of interest in the presented topic.”

Terrell Dinkins, president and founder of OBN Wealth Advisors in Stockbridge, Georgia, also says it’s challenging to get appointments through online seminars.

“People are not as engaged or thinking about setting up a meeting when sitting at home in front of their computer,” she says.

She says she understands that from personal experience attending online meetings. “I am more engaged with the speaker when I attend an in-person event than an online event, unless it is a topic that really piques my interests,” she says, adding that there is “nothing like face-to-face networking or seminars.”

[Read: 8 Ways Financial Advisors Connect With Millennial Investors.]

Online Seminars Have Their Place

Nicole VanGorder, chief operating officer at Upstate Special Needs Planning in Rochester, New York, says online seminars will have a long-term place in the industry.

“From client one-on-ones to board meetings, online sessions have allowed information to be that much more accessible,” she says. “Valuable, not just relevant, content is key to making online seminars work.”

VanGorder adds that online meetings and seminars will remain a valid way for advisors to reach clients. “It’s important to create space and time for clients to connect with one another. Now more than ever, human connection whether virtual or in person, is important,” she says.

Pamela Sams, financial advisor at Jackson Sams Wealth Strategies in Herndon, Virginia, says online seminars are here to stay, mainly for educational value and brand-building. That’s true even when in-person events return more.

She says an advantage to online seminars is the ability to carefully prequalify the audience and do targeted follow-up campaigns.

“Online seminars will not generate at the same level as in-person, but if the advisor works it correctly, they can yield decent results,” Sams says.

Carrie McPherson, financial advisor at BeaconPoint Wealth Advisors in Providence, Rhode Island, says online seminars can expand an advisor’s prospecting. Using a webinar, an advisor can reach people outside his or her local area, as well as those who don’t want to meet in person.

“I found that the same people would attend our in-person events time and again,” she says. “With online seminars, we can reach an even broader audience. Introducing and intertwining the virtual and in-person experiences provides even greater growth potential for my business going forward.”

A Hybrid Approach

Sue Hickey, insurance and financial retirement professional at Your Own Retirement in Cranberry Township, Pennsylvania, also says prospecting post-pandemic will involve a mix of online and in-person events for her business. But webinars will only be used as a get-to-know-you event.

“We will continue to use webinars as education and soft introductions but will not depend on them as the only marketing funnel,” she says. “I do believe the online (events) are here to stay, but I do not see them creating the same opportunities as in-person.”

Hickey notes that many Americans in the retirement or preretirement demographics are above age 50 and have greater concerns about contracting a serious case of COVID-19.

“We are our (client’s) demographic and have not felt comfortable presenting at an in-person event, so we believe the clients and prospects will feel the same,” she says.

She is planning to hold a live event in mid-June, her first since March 2020.

“We feel that, with the vaccines and the reopening of some locations, we can safely provide an event without worrying about it becoming a spreader event,” she says. “That is our biggest fear: to put anyone else at risk. If our prospects are coming and are apprehensive, then the attention to our interactions and efforts will be lost in that worry. We want our prospects to feel safe and comfortable.”

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