Communication is key to growing business, Sanlam UK private office head tells Annual Law Dinner

20/11/2017 Leah Hodgson

Good communication is fundamental to growing a business, chief executive of Sanlam UK's private office Penny Lovell told eprivateclient Annual Law Dinner attendees in London last week (14/11/2017).

Ms Lovell marvelled at the "extraordinary" transformation in communication in recent years with the appearance of new technology. She noted that in just one generation, society has gone from using a landline and phone book to social media and software such as Skype on mobile devices.

As an example of the changes in how we communicate, Ms Lovell recalled a childhood friend she lost touch with when he moved to Australia.

"In those days, it meant I would never really expect to see him again. But, oh, the magic of new technology! He tracked me down a few years ago through LinkedIn," she explained.

"He has built up a superb gold mining business and communication is probably one of the key building blocks in helping him build. He lives in Perth and works between various African states and London and New York. He can be wherever he needs to be whenever he needs to be – either geographically or by conference call."

Closer to home, she remarked on how Uber’s family setting allowed her to see where her children were going and were they to be trusted with such a benefit. 

Although personal anecdotes, examples such as these reflect back into business according to Ms Lovell and how today communication innovations are being used to build brands and awareness. 

Facebook is one of the ultimate business examples of innovation in communication for Ms Lovell. With 1.79 billion users, she stated that it has "perfected" advertising in a way that makes it enticing for everyone. Facebook has actually taken £1 billion from print publications in the past year and for every new dollar spent by brands online 85 percent goes to Facebook and Google. 

However, Ms Lovell warned, the influence of innovation comes with its dangers. Staying with the example of Facebook, she explained that some considered that the failure to clamp down on fake news combined with the way its algorithm places users in polarised filter bubbles shaped the outcome of the US Presidential election.

Facebook is now building tools to detect and classify misinformation but this modern form of communication has enabled Facebook to become a global newspaper, operating in 192 countries with all the various legal and cultural contexts that implies, Ms Lovell stated.

"So, what do we learn as private client lawyers and wealth managers from this brave new world? Well, for sure we learn about the new ways to connect and build our brand. If adverts for products I don't even know I need can find me online, and find me via Facebook or in my Google searches, then why not have the private client industry find me online to remind me that my Will needs updating? Or that I’m at an age where I need to think more seriously about inheritance tax planning?" she commented. 

It is the idea of "personal touch" via online communication which is delivered through companies such as Facebook that the private client industry needs to adopt, Ms Lovell added. The effective use of LinkedIn, using video both to introduce a firm, it's skills and to make technical issues become real and more relevant as well as finding out about a client's interests are all measures that can be taken to enhance communication, Ms Lovell suggested. 

Communication innovation has created a lot of opportunity but also huge risks to personal lives. Ms Lovell quoted the chief executive of Google, Eric Schmidt, who said "we produce as much data online in 48 hours as the whole of humanity produced up to 2012. Most of the data is produced through social media and is therefore in the public domain."

Therefore, Ms Lovell observed, social media is the starting point for anyone who wants to gather information about you or your clients.

"The point is that social media exploits natural human frailties namely – a need for social validation and curiosity ('click on this' resulting in malware being downloaded) both of these are perfect for exploitation by a hacker or someone who wants to find out more about you. And it’s our duty to ensure our clients and family are fully aware of these risks."

So, it’s not just the way that brands interact with their clients that is undergoing a transformation. The same is happening in the way companies communicate with their own staff through the use of tools such as apps. 

"If firms have employees that are supported and helped by their work culture then that’s going to reflect into positive messages into all sorts of new potential client environments. Innovative ways of communicating with your staff to achieve positive goals that support them can only have one knock-on effect for finding new customers!"

In the wealth management industry, Ms Lovell noted that several firms are increasingly making use of platforms/intranet that align cohesive brand narrative that all staff can talk to. It helps ensure that all parts of the business are on message and "singing from the same hymn sheet."

For her, effective and cohesive communication with staff will not only help retain business but open up avenues to other opportunities as well as boosting morale, staff engagement and productivity.

Ms Lovell summarised that communication with clients is fundamental to grow businesses, build strong relationships and also protect clients.

"With politicians and chief executives increasingly enlisting the services of communications coaches and as we see developments like the checkout services at Amazon, the convenience of Uber or the simple functionality of the John Lewis website transform our lives, perhaps the idea that communication in business doesn’t need to be a primary focus will change," she concluded. 

The 2017 eprivateclient Annual Law Dinner for heads of private client (or the like) was held on Tuesday 14 November at The Goring Hotel in London. The dinner was attended by 19 senior partners, managing partners and heads of private clients and the managing director of PAM Insight Ed Hicks, who was also chair for the evening. The dinner was kindly sponsored by Sanlam and Lombard International Assurance.

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