Those ongoing strategic debates, preparations and plans have been drawn into even sharper focus by Covid-19 and lockdown.
This is especially so where remote working has become the norm and where it not only looks likely to remain the case for the foreseeable future but becomes a core part of the new normal.
In a very real sense, lockdown is likely to shape the next stage of evolution for networks and brokers.
Stability, certainty, transparency, communication
We asked our appointed representative (AR) firms what they wanted from their network during the lockdown period, whether it met their needs and what networks may be required to deliver in the months and years ahead.
During lockdown, stability, certainty, transparency and strong communication were all high on the wanted list.
That is a point that networks, both now and in the future, should continue to heed.
We may underestimate how important regular communication is, regardless of the existing situation, and also the reassurance that AR firms take from having ongoing contact and being made aware of the support that is available to them.
Upping our communication levels even further, has certainly been a key takeaway for us.
Of course, when it comes to what networks might continue to offer, core support and service functions delivered both pre- and during lockdown are still going to be required.
But it’s also clear that when it comes to technology provision, for example, AR firms are looking ahead.
As Jon Stones, managing director of Stonebridge AR firm, Mortgage 1st told us: “Brokers being able to operate remotely will be a key factor in their future success.
“Firms will be looking to their network for support whether that is developing technology or developing remote selling skills and processes.”
That ability to marry up these potentially shifting sands of demand for advice, potentially not being able to sit in front of clients in an office, and the technology that gets you professionally and safely over this hurdle, is going to be a key part of what makes a successful network-AR partnership.
This is not just about the software which networks make available to advisory firms of course, but how they can utilise it and whether the way they approached clients in the past is going to be advantageous in the future.
Processes may need to be tweaked but so might sales and also softer skills, especially if you can’t get the same extent of rapport and client relationship when engaging remotely.
It’s not as easy as it sounds, many brokers tell us.
So, as networks we’ll need to keep developing our technology and support systems.
This, at a time when there are market uncertainties to cope with – currently the market is performing well but at some point we might anticipate that to steady and there may be a different environment for advisers in six to nine months’ time.
It is here that networks will also earn their corn, in terms of the product and service opportunities they continue to present to their AR firms.