Bridging the digital divide

26 March 2020

Money & Life team

Money & Life contributors draw on their diverse range of experience to present you with insights and guidance that will help you manage your financial wellbeing, achieve your lifestyle goals and plan for your financial future.

Recent research shows seniors are becoming more comfortable online and with social media. Cara Sloshberg CFP®and Chris Giaouris CFP® explain how financial planners can build the confidence of their older clients when using digital technologies.

Even though many retirees may not have been using social media during their working lives, research shows this is no barrier to their enthusiasm for these communication channels. In its 2019 Senior Surfers report, National Seniors Australia reported 40 per cent of members use Facebook daily and 68 per cent don’t feel at all frustrated using technology.In presenting the report, National Seniors CEO, Professor John McCallum says these findings are important in busting common myths about digital literacy among seniors.

“There are just too many blanket statements that are very negative about older people’s skills, such as ‘they’re behind the times’, ‘they’re digitally illiterate’ or ‘there is a digital divide between young and old,” he said. “Our research shows that over half those aged 80 and over use an internet search engine everyday and more than 50 per cent of these people did online banking once a week, if not daily.”

Trusting the technology

Based on her experience as Financial Planner and Relationship Manager with Equipsuper, Cara Sloshberg CFP®agrees most seniors are pretty comfortable connecting with friends and family on Facebook. But when it comes to transacting online, she’s found that trust is still a significant issue for many of her older clients.

“Many are still not prepared to log into their account online,” says Cara. “They still prefer a phone call, even to enquire about their super balance, and some won’t be comfortable using BPAY for regular super contributions,” she says. “And for a larger transaction, like a one-off non concessional contribution, they’re quite likely to go into the bank to have a teller do the transaction for them or bring a cheque to our office.”

While lack of trust can be the biggest obstacle in using digital technology to manage money, sticking to paper and face-to-face transactions can be a matter of habit for seniors, too.

“Some of my clients who’ve been successful in business, and who may not have moved through the workforce with computers and technology, find it more cumbersome to use technology in retirement,” Cara says. “Clients who are used to queuing up at the post office to pay bills, will probably continue to do it as part of their routine, as it’s what they feel comfortable with.”

With any of her clients, Cara is more than happy to guide them through the Equipsuper app, which offers an easier option of doing some practical things, such as check their balances when required. In explaining the security measures used to confirm each member’s identity, clients can feel reassured that their data and super balance won’t be compromised.

“The two-factor authentication we use to confirm a transaction or enquiry is pretty standard practice for financial institutions,” Cara says. “But some clients benefit from walking through it with me a couple of times to feel secure and confident in using the app.”

Practical support from planners

For many other retired clients, it won’t be the first time they’ve used apps like these to access information about their finances and make transactions. As Chris Giaouris CFP®, Partner and Principal Adviser at Chronos Private, observes, the world has changed a lot and people are having to adapt, regardless of their age.

“Society and all the other institutions have done the work to make this happen,” says Chris. “In the last five to seven years, we’ve seen a lot of corporates and institutions going paperless, so people are getting used to receiving statements and bills via email or through an app. So, when we decided to stop sending statements in the post, the majority of clients didn’t mind at all.”

But Chris agrees that some older clients prefer to take things slowly and need support to get used to digital as a replacement for paper.

“We’re completely comfortable with guiding clients through the new processes and ways of working that come with the technology,” he says. “For years, we’ve been helping clients with form-filling in the traditional way, so we’re just doing the same thing in a different format. And being guided through it by someone they trust can help them overcome doubts about security and privacy.

“We usually find it takes clients only two or three times having their hand held to feel confident in doing it themselves. They adapt quickly and start using technology more in other areas of their lives, too.”

But if clients prefer to keep doing things the same way, Chris doesn’t push them into making a change.

“If someone has a system they trust and it’s working for them, then we’ll definitely support them in continuing with that,” he says. “While it may be the way the world is moving, we won’t force anyone to ‘fix’ something which, in their view, isn’t broken. We never promote our practice as being really progressive in using new technologies because we know it isn’t something everyone is comfortable with.”

Having said this, Chris and the team at Chronos Private are eager to embrace the benefits of digital communication for both their business and clients.

“We have clients who are a couple in their 70s and used to struggle with downloading a bank statement and sending it to us via email,” he says. “While they’re still not very tech-savvy, they’re committed to sustainable investing and have been sharing links to information about it to discuss with me at review meetings.

“For other clients, we might run a cash flow model in a meeting and access their accounts or investment platform in real time through their phone or laptop. This way, we can be working with the most up-to-date figures and get to the solution more quickly. These are just a couple of ways that client relationships and outcomes can benefit when we tap into the technology that’s available.”

Pros and cons of the paper trail

Although many Chronos Private clients enjoy these advantages in managing their finances, others like to keep the paper trail going as a way of keeping tabs on their finances.

“When we stopped sending paper statements as a matter of routine, some clients asked to keep receiving them,” says Chris. “Given the sheer volume of emails people are getting, something arriving in the post can be a much more effective prompt to take action than an email or app notification.”

In Cara’s experience, sending private information to clients via email instead of snail mail can also be a problem for some of their older members.

“Many documents we send include private information and have to be password protected,” she says. “If they don’t have the right version of the Adobe PDF reader installed, they can struggle to access their document. Of course, we try to help them with problems like these as best we can, but it can put people off and they end up asking for us to send out their paperwork in the post instead.”

In other instances, it’s the financial planner who has no option but to rely on paper copies signed in person by their client.

“For Equipsuper, we need many of our identification documents to be physical copies signed by the member,” says Cara. “In transfers of larger sums of money, we might need hard copies to comply with anti-fraud and anti-money laundering legislation. And binding beneficiary nominations are still required to be a signed hard copy due to the legality of the document.”

The digital frontier

This highlights the important role financial institutions and government play in pushing people towards digital transactions and interactions, and in holding them back.

“With many organisations now taking everything digital, this means fewer tellers at banks,” says Cara. “For people who still want to do their financial transactions face-to-face, it can take them much longer. It’s the same with Centrelink, where it’s now virtually impossible to see someone in person. If someone is not prepared to manage their Centrelink income declarations and other admin online, they’re going to be spending hours on the phone.”

The speed and convenience of digital in sharing information can be an advantage less tech-savvy clients are missing out on. And the same can be true for accessing their money.

“While we’ll never refuse to help clients with a paper copy form for a super withdrawal, I will remind them that it takes longer to process a transaction this way, especially if a public holiday comes into it,” says Cara. “If they want their money faster, I’ll suggest calling our helpline to get set up online to speed things up.”

Having taken up a cloud-based solution as their preferred method of storing client paper work, Chronos Private is making its move into digital. But Chris is looking forward to seeing progress from financial institutions that will enable the practice to streamline further.

“Third-party adoption is going to be critical in where we can go in this space,” Chris says. “When the big banks and super funds take bigger steps towards digitally integrated systems, finance professionals and consumers will all enjoy the benefits.

“Take BT Panorama, for example. Westpac has invested a lot in a whole new platform that’s completely digital-friendly. It’s weird to sit down and go through so many tasks and functions, and there isn’t a single thing for a client to sign. This makes things easier for the fund member, but we still need hard copies for compliance purposes. These compliance requirements could be something that regulators and licensees will be reviewing as these new digital solutions emerge, so they really can deliver greater efficiency to all stakeholders.”

While getting older clients comfortable with a digital way of working can be a challenge, Chris, like many financial planners, is more than willing to put time in to support them.

“It’s more efficient for our practice to work with less paper and more technology,” he says. “Helping any of our clients get used to a new process or system is a service they’ve always valued. They can get so lost with their finances, even without the technology factor. But we’ll always be led by their preferences and if someone would rather do things as they always have, we certainly don’t see that as a burden or a problem for our business.”



Senior surfing habits

According to the 2019 report from National Seniors Australia, many retirees are using digital technology almost daily, but levels of comfort vary between different types of technology.

Super surfers Comfortable using digital technology in their everyday lives. 31.4%
Savvy surfers Very comfortable using digital services but might not use them as often or have some areas with which they are not so comfortable. 41.6%
Sometimes surfers Use digital technology as necessary, but are not always comfortable or proficient. 21.8%
Seldom surfers Use the internet and digital technology but only rarely and likely prefer other methods of interaction. 5.2%