April 6, 2021
How Can Advisors Improve Tele-Financial Planning?   

Before becoming a financial planner, Derek Sensenig was a military training instructor. Unsure what career to pursue, Sensenig put himself out into the world and rapidly networked with those he met through varying opportunities. It was then he found a job at a bank through a network connection where he worked as a sales manager in Texas. Further, he went on to complete his MBA degree and become a CFP before working in the financial planning industry. “It wasn’t a direct path but it’s a path I wouldn’t change,” Sensenig said. Recently, Sensenig was published in the Journal of Financial Planning with his article from September 2020 about utilizing what we know about tele-mental health in tele-financial planning. 

Why is Tele-Mental Health Comparable to Tele-Financial Planning?

In the summer of 2020, there was great economic impact and change within financial planning as well as the rest of the world. As an industry that works in the traditional sense of being face-to-face to discuss financial planning with clients, however, when the pandemic happened everything went online and business was done virtually. 

“How do financial planners adapt now in the changing environment to still serve our clients and do it even better?” Sensenig asked. His research showed similar parallels to tele-mental and tele-financial planning. He found that the further away the mental health client was from the therapist’s office, the higher level of efficacy they found in those situations. In the experiments, there were still people who didn’t come to meetings and those were similar in comparison to face-to-face tele-mental health situations. Sensenig noted that tele-financial planners also have clients that don’t come to meetings online. 

Are There Virtual Gains Compared to Being In-Person

Sensenig said that there are two gains from being virtual compared to being in-person. The first is geographical distance. When working face-to-face it creates geographical limits of where the clients are from. By removing this restriction, clients are subjected to a wider range of advisors to choose from, therefore they can find a planner that works best for them. The second advantage is efficiency. It is easier for clients to go to appointments that are virtual as they don’t need to leave their personal spaces for the meeting. It also allows spouses to be in different locations yet still meet with their advisors at the same time. 

What Are the Challenges in Licensing?

“Compliance is the biggest piece someone needs to address in this situation,” Sensenig said. Working in a fee-based business has its bonuses when in a virtual environment. Sensenig also noted that being virtual has left clients more satisfied with their experience. “I get incredible feedback about how much they’ve enjoyed it because it makes life so much easier for them,” Sensenig said. Being virtual allows people to cross states or even cross the border yet still be available to meet online. 

The Benefit of “Fit”

“Clients have information overload. There is not a lack of information on the internet. […] They want somebody that explains it to them and puts all the cookies on the shelf where they can reach them. When they meet or interview financial planners they can get the person that they feel is the best fit and make a personal connection,” he said. It is important as an advisor to think about what you can do to make the client comfortable as well as to think about whether you have the right technology to make sure you can communicate efficiently for different learners, Sensenig explained. 

Limitations of a Virtual Environment 

Sensenig explained that the firm and compliance department have to be aligned during this process with the correct systems in place. “If you don’t think the clients will want it, you’re going to be exactly right. With the advent of Facebook and FaceTime and Skype combined with the pandemic, almost as a blanket statement, everybody is comfortable with technology. The target should be to go after those that are comfortable with it and helping them get comfortable,” he said. 

The research found that tele-mental health therapists were providing webcams for their clients when they didn’t have access. Sensenig believes it is worth investing in webcams and cheap pieces of technology like this if your client doesn’t have them and is someone you want to work with. It makes a huge difference to them and is really helpful in allowing them to work virtually with others. 

Another limitation is privacy. Sensenig explained privacy must be addressed and advisors need to be cautious along with forward-thinking about what could happen when working virtually. For example, clients may host a meeting in public when talking about money and personal information. As an advisor, it is important to be ready to have those conversations and set expectations moving forward for future meetings including where to hold meetings. 

Lastly, another limitation is security and recording. When talking online about finances and personal information, it can be worrying for the clients. Therefore, it is important to have a conversation about the changing virtual environment. “It is a constant conversation and you should be proactively looking for potential security issues and making sure you’re addressing them,” Sensenig said. Ideas include having a locked Zoom and using a virtual private network (VPN).   

Best Virtual Practices

“You have to look at the client’s experience from their side,” Sensenig said. Be prepared to talk more to get the conversation flowing and be personal which is relatable and more comfortable. Sensenig likes to have personal items behind him when on camera as it creates a sense of being homely but also acts on what would be his desk with family photos and items. Invest in good lighting, a good camera, good internet, and present yourself with confidence. “The client needs to feel like you’re the expert and that you’re bringing value to them and they understand that value,” Sensenig said. Be confident, Sensenig advises practicing in front of the camera to develop a natural feel when in front of it. 

Another part of the virtual process is adapting your processes to a virtual setting. Sensenig suggests looking for ways to bring additional value such as offering updates, having a whiteboard to write on, and saying happy birthday to the client. Likewise, have a conversation about how you’re meeting virtually. Do the clients need help with the technology? Do they have a laptop or phone? Sensenig explained that it is a continuous learning process and you must apply what you learn to the next client to improve. 

Leveraging Virtual Environment From Prospecting Perspective

LinkedIn is a site more and more people are using to connect with those they don’t and do know. It’s a powerful tool when used correctly that can build relationships and even careers. Sensenig suggests connecting with others who are doing virtual financial planning and learn how they are doing it. “The angle you have to take is, someone is doing it better than me and I need to find out what that better way is,” he said. It’s important to ask for help from others that are more experienced at virtual financial planning to learn how to improve.

Sensenig also stressed the importance of asking yourself what you can bring to the table. He likes to begin with the end mindset. Who do you want to serve and reach? When you have answered this question then you can create valuable content and attract clients to you that are beyond your normal geographical bounds. 

Develop Your Niche

Like in most businesses, people need to find their niche of clients. If you are unsure what yours is, Sensenig suggests asking your current clients why they like to do business with you. Why did they want to work with you? The next step is to then go searching for those types of clients. Interviewer Dr. Chia-Li Chien added that the niche finds you, you don’t need to create it. 

Sensenig noted that sometimes clients have a hesitancy even if they are willing to talk to you virtually. “There’s a natural ebb and flow of being an advisor that you just have to be okay with. Know the ups and downs are just going to happen. Focus on the people that do want to meet with you. You can’t serve everybody,” he said. 

Parting Advice

Lastly, Sensenig’s parting advice for other financial planners was to be always be learning. “Look for a better way to improve and know that a better way is out there and know it’s your job to seek that out. Is there a better system and process you can use for your client?” he said. There is of great importance to learn and adapt to not be left behind and to say you’ve figured it out in a changing environment. I think no matter what your specialization is this advice is useful and should be put into practice, especially during this time when we value and use virtual connection. 

Derek-Sensenig-2About Derek J Sensenig:

Derek J. Sensenig, MBA, CFP® is an owning partner and Senior Vice President of Financial Planning for Encompass Advisory Services, LLC in Houston, TX. The firm is an independent RIA and also operates as a SmartVestor Pro with Dave Ramsey’s team. At his previous company, he served as a Regional Financial Sales Leader, Supervisory Principal, and Sales Consultant for more than 65 wealth managers. Prior to entering the financial services industry, Derek was a Technical Sergeant in the U.S. Air Force and served as a Military Training Instructor at Joint Base San Antonio (Lackland AFB). He was also stationed in Alaska, Kuwait, and Korea. Derek is currently pursuing his PhD in Personal Financial Planning from Kansas State University. He has been married to his wife, Angela, for 20 years and they have two boys: Jordan (6) and Jaxon (4). In his free time, Derek enjoys playing softball, watching MLB baseball, and hanging out with his sons.

Chia-Li Chien, PhD, CFP®, PMP®About the Host:

Dr. Chia-Li Chien is a succession program director at Value Growth Institute, a succession consulting practice dedicated to helping business owners increase their firms’ equity value. Before her private consulting practice, she held several senior management positions in Fortune 500 companies. Dr. Chien is a director of the financial planning program at the School of Management at California Lutheran University. Dr. Chien is a frequent speaker about succession and retirement planning at national conferences and has published three award-winning books, including her most recent publication, “Enhancing Retirement Success Rates in the United States.” Dr. Chien serves on the boards of various national financial service associations. She holds a doctorate in financial planning and is a Certified Financial Planner (CFP®) as well as Project Management Professional (PMP®).

Rosie BakerAbout the Author:

Rosie Baker is an undergraduate student at California Lutheran University, graduating in May 2021. She is studying Communication with an emphasis in PR and Advertising and has a minor in Creative Writing. In July 2020, she published her first book, Mirrors & Windows: Unlocking a New Framework to Envision Your Success, with New Degree Press. 


Dr. Chien interviewed Derek J. Sensenig, MBA, CLU®, ChFC®, CFP®, RICP®, on “How Can Advisors improve Tele-Financial Planning?” on April 06, 2021, at 1:00 pm PST.

The tele-financial planning (or virtual financial planning) practices is not new. However, the coronavirus pandemic came with the new normal of tele-financial planning. In this session, we will discuss the following questions:

  • Why is tele-mental health comparable to tele-financial planning?
  • How will tele-financial planning present a limited value?
  • What are some of the best practices in tele-financial planning?
  • What are the best ways to prospect new clients in the “new normal” of a virtual world?


Sensenig, D. J., Walsh, B., Machiz, I., Stanley, N., Russell, M., & McCoy, M. (2020). Utilizing what we know about tele-mental health in tele- financial planning: a systematic literature review. Journal of Financial Planning, 33(9), 48–58.