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The Conversations That Matter Project: 
Addressing Client Concerns, Hopes and Dreams During Uncertain Times

By Heather Kelly

As the Senior Vice President of Advisory and Strategic Accounts for Allianz Life Insurance Company of North America (Allianz), I lead a team that helps advisors and clients open their minds to solutions that can potentially produce better outcomes for their financial future. One of the ways we do that at Allianz is by building healthy relationships with the advisors we work with, arming them with the tools they need to communicate, educate and ultimately support their clients.

This has been quite a year, and advisors have had to become more resilient than ever. In fact, we recently kicked off the "Conversations That Matter" project to see just how much advisors have had to adjust to the challenges presented in 2020. We heard directly from hundreds of financial advisors about how their year has been, and we were able to create a special report that captures how the pandemic has affected the conversations financial advisors are having with their clients.


Adjusting to the challenges of 2020

One of the things I mentioned during our recent webinar broadcasted by RIA Channel – where I was joined by fellow panelists Bob Veres, editor/publisher at Inside Information, Shannon Stone, CFP® and client advisor at DHR Investment Counsel, Ltd. and Marie Swift from Impact Communications – is that there was no way to anticipate a year like 2020. Part of the value an advisor delivers is their daily intent to make sure no matter the situation, their clients are positioned for the best possible outcome, in light of their unique circumstances and desired tradeoffs. And this year really challenged advisors to deliver on that promise. It forced advisors and clients to reevaluate priorities and change the type of discussions they have. 

Clients are now a bit more trepidatious given market volatility and find themselves at a different inflection point, especially wealthier and mass affluent clients. There are so many extra “what if” questions that an advisor now has to walk through with the client. The instability of the past year’s environment has made it even more necessary for open dialog between advisors and clients in order to address the growing list of concerns.


Bridging the communication gaps with clients

One of the things we wanted to explore throughout the Conversations That Matter project was how advisors’ communication methods may have changed during the pandemic. Impact Communications performed an advisor survey that enabled us to glean insights into how advisor and client behavior changed throughout 2020. It revealed that most advisors increased the volume of their communications, the communication channels they used, and the topics they discussed. From phone calls, to emails, to video chat, advisors were communicating with their clients more than ever before. In a profession where most advisors typically connect with their clients in person, finding ways to continue to have those impactful, meaningful conversations was no longer a “nice to have” – it was essential.

Advisors had to learn to create connectivity with clients over a video camera or a telephone – and that creates its own set of challenges. There are certain cues that we can miss, in individual personalities and in body language, when we have client meetings over a camera or just over the phone. It's been a very interesting exercise for advisors, but I do feel that the stress of these shared experiences has built a sense of community. After all, we are all going through this together.


The case for modern risk-management solutions 

While we discussed many topics regarding conversation methods and channels in the special report and the webinar, we also discussed how the pandemic has changed the conversation regarding risk-mitigation products. As I’ve mentioned, part of my job at Allianz is preparing independent advisors to provide the most preferred outcomes for their clients with the right tools and solutions.

Allianz is stepping up to help independent financial advisors with new and innovative solutions in the risk-management arena to more seamlessly integrate risk management as part of a comprehensive wealth-management practice. I really believe we are in a renaissance for risk management – and you might be surprised when you take a closer look at some of our solutions. The famous Oldsmobile commercial comes to mind: “This isn’t your grandfather’s Oldsmobile.” Well, these aren’t the annuities and risk-mitigation products of the past, either.

Our guiding principle at Allianz is, we want to meet the advisor where he or she lives and in their preferred business model – so if you own a RIA or are an advisor, there are fee-based and fee-only solutions for you with appropriate tracking and client-billing solutions. We appreciate that, when insurance products are integrated into a financial plan, the outcome is typically going to be better than when simply layered on top. Oftentimes when advisors are thinking about the insurance products they've encountered previously, they might not have had the best experience. What Allianz extends to the marketplace is beyond just product. It is inclusive of the advisor and client experiences. Allianz and I are working hard to change that perception. You can hear my thoughts on all this and more via:

Heather Kelly

Senior Vice President, Advisory and Strategic Accounts
Heather Kelly is responsible for helping drive strategy, sales results and growth through the company’s registered investment adviser and broker/dealer partnerships.
Photo of Heather Kelly, Senior Vice President, Adivisory Solutions and Strategic Accounts

Heather Kelly, ChFC, CLU, RHU is senior vice president of Advisory and Strategic Accounts at Allianz Life Insurance Company of North America (Allianz). Heather is responsible for helping drive strategy, sales results, and growth through the company’s registered investment adviser and broker/dealer partnerships.

Prior to joining Allianz, Kelly served as senior vice president at United Capital and executive vice president of United Capital Risk Management. She was responsible for deploying strategic initiatives to educate advisors and clients on how properly designed, executed, and managed insurance-based solutions can help address financial instability. Before joining United Capital, Kelly was managing director of Strategic Alliances at NFP Securities, and sales vice president at Leaders Group/Capitas Distributors.

Kelly attended the University of California, Berkeley, Haas School of Business, and holds several designations from the American College, including Chartered Life Underwriter (CLU), Chartered Financial Consultant (ChFC), and Registered Health Underwriter (RHU).