The Internet offers a bottomless trough of information for investors, but financial advisors need to remember that not all clients – especially those who predate the Web – are comfortable ditching paper  statements  and  face  to  face  meetings,  warn  those  who work with seniors.

Kris  Miller  is  a  Legacy Wealth Strategist,  author,  and blogger  who  speaks with audiences about preserving and building their wealth.  She  has  advised  more  than 6,000 families and said she has learned that careful advisors can read  subtle  clues  to  let  them  know  just  how  comfortable  their clients are with technology.

According to a 2014 Pew Research Internet Project report, 41% of Americans 65 years old and older do not go online, and 53% do not have broadband access. The numbers go higher at 75 years old, when more than half do not use the Internet.

“A significant  majority  of  older adults  say  they  need assistance when it comes to using new digital devices,” the study reports.

If  advisors  don’t  measure  how  comfortable  seniors  are  online, they may be losing an important client base.

In the Society  of Certified  Senior Advisors  (SCSA) e-book,  “Finding  Direction  in  the  Senior  Market: Your  Guide  to Attracting  and  Retaining  Senior  Clients”  reports, Americans over 50 are expected to control more than 70% of the nation’s disposable income.

“The majority of my clients are not on the internet, they don’t want to be,” Miller said. “Advisors have to really, really make sure that the client is there, or they have to create an alternative way to connect with them, the old way, the way we used to do it. If an advisor can’t take the time to be with the client, that’s an issue right there.”

“From  the  first  meeting,  advisors  can  conduct  a  subtle  assessment of a client’s Internet comfort with just a few questions,” Miller said. An alert advisor will pick up clues and understand if a client favors in-person meetings and printed material over emails and online accounts.

Ted  Sarenski,  CPA,  CFP®,  is  chief  executive  and  president  of Blue Ocean Strategic Capital in Syracuse, N.Y., and chairs of the Elder Planning Task Force of the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA). He said advisors should understand that going online is challenging for some clients, but notes that there’s  a  shortage  of  programs  to  train  advisors  on  teaching clients about available technology.

“We struggle with it quite a bit, actually,” Sarenski said. “We’ll sit down with them at a computer or laptop in the conference room, and we say ‘here’s the website that we go to,’ and we show them the page where they enter their username and password. But it’s hard for them.”

“Actively listening, being aware that clients in their 40s are different from clients in their 70s, and understanding that people have different levels of comfort with technology at every age is crucial,” Miller said.

Miller  said  “she  looks  for  clues  when  assessing  a  client’s  tech skills. She’ll mention a fund or program and ask if the client would like material by email, or if they’d rather have a brochure.” Building on what she learns, Miller said, “she strives to serve clients in a way that makes the comfortable, without making them feel embarrassed about a lack of technical acumen.”

Working  with  the AICPA’s  Elder  task  force,  Sarenski  said  he’s been  exposed  to  sessions  on  creating  a  comfortable  physical environment for seniors. A good office makes it easy for seniors to visit,  with  bright  lighting,  an  uncluttered  layout  and  even  chairs that are easier to get in and out of, instead of soft, low couches. These are all things he takes into account at his own office.

But he said he can’t recall any programs that help advisors specifically assess a client’s comfort with computer platforms or how to teach willing clients how to get online and access their accounts, opening  them  up  to  the  wealth  of  information  available,  from investment news sites to his firm’s own newsletter.

“We’re not trained as teachers,” he said. “There’s no one place you can go that said this is how you approach these folks.”

  • Kris Miller

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