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FEFP: Are Virtual Meetings as Good as In-Person? (EP65)

What are the perks of virtual versus in-person client meetings? In this episode, Tommy, Ben, and John weigh the advantages, exploring how virtual meetings offer unparalleled flexibility and opportunities. They will explain how virtual meetings not only save time, but also provide greater access to financial advice, as well as the less intimidating nature of virtual interactions, where discussing finances from the comfort of home can alleviate stress. 

Listen in to learn how virtual meetings foster clarity and focus, making financial discussions more streamlined and productive. You'll also hear about the ease of connecting with families virtually and whether anything is lost without in-person interactions.

Listen to the full episode here:

What you will learn:

  • The positive side of having more virtual meetings. (4:15)
  • How virtual meetings help you save time and increase access. (8:30)
  • Why Zoom calls are beneficial for those nervous about meeting with an advisor. (10:00)
  • The clarity and focus you can have in a virtual meeting. (16:00)
  • Why we primarily meet virtually with clients. (19:40)
  • How having virtual meetings is more secure for the client. (22:30)
  • Why virtual meetings make meeting with families easier. (27:30)
  • What we miss about in-person meetings. (30:00)

Ideas worth sharing:

  • “Virtual meetings have given us more flexibility than we have ever had before.” - Mason & Associates
  • “It’s a lot less intimidating to meet an advisor over a Zoom call.” - Mason & Associates
  • “There are certain things—like human interaction—that you just can’t replicate on Zoom, but for the most part, going virtual has been a great pivot for us.” - Mason & Associates

Resources from this episode:


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Read the Transcript Below:

Congratulations for taking ownership of your financial plan by tuning into the Federal Employee Financial Planning Podcast, hosted by Mason & Associates, financial advisors with over three decades of experience serving you.

John Mason: Welcome to the Federal Employee Financial Planning podcast. I'm John Mason, President and Certified Financial Planner at Mason & Associates. And on today's episode, on our podcast, we have Tommy Blackburn and Ben Raikes. And unfortunately, one of our other co-hosts, Mike Mason will not be able to be here with us today, but we're super excited because we're going to talk about virtual versus in-person client meetings and how that's beneficial to you as a listener of the Federal Employee Financial Planning Podcast. So really excited to bring this content to you today. Tommy, Ben, how you guys doing?

Ben Raikes: Doing just fine. I will say I'm a little bit worried about doing this podcast. I'm afraid that I'm going to be the whipping boy on this one because if you remember a couple of years ago before I joined the firm and you said, “Hey, Ben, we're doing this thing. We're doing a lot of our meetings virtually right now.” And I was like, “I'm not so sure about that.” And we'll get into way more of that later but where you're excited I'm like, “Okay guys bring it on I'm ready.”

Tommy Blackburn: Well, I'm glad you said that, Ben. That's a good reminder. There's been quite a few things as I reflect that you are not so sure about and I think you now are fully on board with so maybe we'll have a little fun with that today. And for the audience, this is actually, we're speaking about virtual. We're recording this podcast virtually.

For us, for the first time, we're typically all together in a room, and as we try to enhance, and give ourselves more flexibility in how we're doing it, we're trying this differently via podcast recording platform, and we're not all together. So we're excited. We'll see how this goes. It's feeling a little different than Zoom that we're used to with those virtual meetings, but hopefully a lot of lessons, and advantages as well as maybe some cons will all be the same.

John Mason: Well, it's a fun topic of conversation, and I know that as I think about virtual versus in-person client meetings, there's certainly some give and take. There's positives, there's negatives. I think overall, we'll be able to share from like the education aspect, what's good about virtual client meetings, maybe from like a physical health standpoint, what's not good about some of these virtual client meetings. I mean, I literally, when I sit down in this chair first thing in the morning, my back immediately starts hurting. I don't know if it's because I'm getting old. I don't know if it's because like Zoom fatigue is like super real, but I sit down, I put my hand on the mouse and it's like shooting pain throughout my back and neck, and I attribute that a lot to this evolution that we've had over the years going to a lot of virtual meetings.

Tommy Blackburn: It's interesting because the flip side is I feel like virtual has given us more flexibility, us and our clients than we ever had before.

So you could sit on a bouncy ball during a virtual meeting. You could be doing a walk and chat with a client. And because there's less, there's truthfully, in my opinion, less time demands, or you can be more efficient in a virtual method, right? So instead of you having to worry about traffic of a client getting here on time or not, doing some of the more traditional meet and greet in the lobby and bringing them back gives you more flexibility, I think, to deal with our personal health. Although, there's certainly a fatigue aspect that you're mentioning as well. So I guess it's kind of a little bit of both, I would think.

John Mason: Yeah, I guess we have to separate the fact that it's like your physical body health versus aches and pains versus like I haven't shaken, shook, shaken as many hands over the last couple years.

So the germ transfer–I've never had COVID, I don't think, at least I've never had a positive test. And I guarantee you if we were 90% in-person client meetings, I probably would have had COVID 17 times by now.

Tommy Blackburn: Well, and on that point, not to take us down that road too much. But, I know Ben and I unfortunately have had it, and the benefit there was it was less disruptive to the firm because everything was virtual. One, we didn't infect the rest of the team. The rest of the firm could continue firing on all cylinders. And to the extent, we were physically up to it. We could still do work and host client meetings without getting our clients sick. If we actually felt well enough to be able to operate that.

Ben Raikes: I think there's a little bit of give and take with all of this. And I'm sure we'll really jump into a pros and cons list here in a few minutes, or at least down the road in this podcast. But what's impressed me, John, as you said, “Hey, I've gotI've got aches and pains when I come in, but the way that you have been able to work around some of those things and Tommy mentioned it a little bit, you mentioned it a little bit, Tommy and John, both of you all have miniature treadmills under your desk right now. So technically if, “Hey, I'm getting aches and pains when I sit down,” John, I think during one of our last virtual calls you walk something like three miles. Is that right?

John Mason: Oh, it's been a game changer being able to walk and get up and move in the standup desks and, to Tommy's point earlier, the efficiency that we've gained through being able to meet with clients during our strategic planning meeting season, which we'll talk about in another episode.

Maybe the cadence is actually more times throughout the year because you can do a 15 to 30-minute meeting rather than a 2-hour. So like the amount of time that we've got back in our life has allowed us to eat better, go to the gym more, get these stand-up desks and the treadmill, and it's certainly changed our life. I think we're all healthier now. I know I can speak to myself. I'm healthier now than I was three years ago, and I owe a lot of that, I think, to some of this virtual practice and taking my life back and–

Tommy Blackburn: I would say that's true for clients as well. And when I think about it, them not having to commute to our office and around here in Newport News, Virginia. if you're coming from the Virginia Beach, Chesapeake area, That's a roll of the dice, how that commute's gonna go to get here. So now being able to do it, one, from the comfort of your home, doesn't get any easier than that, and you could be from across the country. You have all your documents, hopefully, like your computer, your personal computer, if you need to log in, the convenience is 100% it's more convenient and maybe by you not having to do the commute to and from the office to meet with the advisor, maybe that gives the client time so that they can address their health as well. That's time they could go to the gym or go on a walk.

John Mason: Well, and not only that, but like the barrier to entry of finding the financial planner that can benefit you, whether it's federal employee or military or somebody with restricted stock or somebody who works in the tech sector, it's the barrier to entry, like access to professionals has never been easier than it is right now because you're able to connect with so many people through video conference or through virtual meetings or through this podcast being able to connect with folks. And as I think about not only the barrier to entry on finding those professionals, we also have the barrier to entry of a time commitment. And the evolution of Mason & Associates was pre-COVID, we did 2-hour meetings in person.

And not only was it a 2-hour meeting in person, you had an hour on the front end as a client that you had to load up the car, take care of the kids, do whatever you had to do to then go to a two-hour meeting to then have an hour at the end of it. So it was a 4-hour time commitment every time you needed to meet with your financial planner. I mean at the end of the day, sounds painful.

I have a four-year-old son. That's a lot. That's a big time commitment and how many people are willing to dedicate that amount of four hours. Four hours just to get information, not to mention how you implement it after the meeting, right? So now if we can drag that time commitment down to an hour, literally hop on your computer, do an hour meeting. We can use those other three hours to implement all of the good ideas. We've got three hours of excess time to actually do the things that matter.

Ben Raikes: John, you brought up a lot of really good points there. I think one that I wanted to go back to just a little bit, as you said, it kind of increases access, right?

So anyone can jump on a Zoom call and they can meet someone in their own backyard. They can meet someone across the country. They have access to thousands of financial advisors and people willing to help them out. I also think there's an additional factor in there where it's a lot less intimidating to meet an advisor over a Zoom call.

Again, you talk about that 4-hour process of getting ready to go, driving there, sitting through a two-hour meeting, and going back. And maybe you feel like you've got to dress a certain way because you're going into a professional's office and you feel like you have to act and behave a certain way.

I don't know if you all noticed this, but I felt like our first few Zoom calls, everyone kind of had their background set up looking nice and pretty and maybe someone put a nicer shirt on or they kept their clothes on from work. And now that our clients have gotten familiar with this it's more of, “Hey I'm going to set this up on my couch and have a glass of wine while I'm doing my meeting,” or maybe I'm going to kick my feet up a little bit and I'm going to have, I don't know, my dog on my lap while I do the meeting because that's what makes me more comfortable meeting with my financial advisor. This is something that nobody would have done on their first Zoom meeting three years ago, but now that they've had round after round of doing this, I think personally, it's really cool and really nice to see our clients be more relaxed as they're heading into this meeting because talking about finances can be something that's scary and intimidating for people, and being able to do it from your own living room with your dog on your lap helps make that a lot better for some folks.

John Mason:The last thing we need is stress.

Tommy Blackburn: Yeah. And in particular, if you think about, it's one thing for existing clients because they're familiar, they already have that trust, they already know it's a non-stressful relationship. But for somebody new, as you guys were talking about barriers of entry, it couldn't get, in my opinion, more comfortable, other than a potential con, as everybody knows, we'll just call it out, is if you feel like you need to have that handshake, look them in the eye, not look them in the eye through the camera.

That's certainly an area that's, it is overcomeable, I would say, inside of Zoom, because we've had, we've made many new clients via Zoom and they feel the trust and the offer is always out there. We do have a physical office. If you want to make that meet and greet type of meeting, we can arrange that whether it's in the office or here locally.

But if not, most folks are very comfortable. Yeah, man, John, when I think back to four hours, particularly as a young, with a young family. I cannot imagine saying, “I got to block off four hours of my day,” to do any of this. So I think hopefully that's, again, lowered that barrier to entry tremendously and made it more palatable for so many people.

I mean, that's a marathon of your day. You also mentioned implementation. That has got to be one of the best things about doing–well, maybe not the best, but it's certainly a huge benefit to doing it this way. Now we were implementing when we were doing it in the office, we would bring up the computer on screen and do these things, but it's so much easier when you're already at home, you have your passwords, you have your logins, and you can't beat the convenience as we've established multiple times here.

So I think we're probably firing off more Social Security and Medicare applications than ever before just because it's so easy to set up these meetings and do them together.

John Mason: So you guys have hit on so many good things, which we always do on this podcast. We have the general outline and then it just kind of evolves, which is neat.

If you turn on the TV. You'll see maybe not TD Ameritrade commercials anymore, but you'll see the advisor on a couch and then the clients across from them and they're like passing iPads back and forth. And it's like, “Ooh, isn't this comfortable?” It's like I don't know that's actually comfortable, but it's certainly–there's so much talk in the industry about creating a comfortable environment because you don't want it to feel like you're at the other end of a desk, or you're unrelatable, or you can't connect to that other human, and I just feel, personally, and maybe it's because we're millennials, but at the end of the day, what's comfortable is probably being at home with your dog, on your own couch with your own clothes, where you didn't have to drive two hours away or an hour each way.

You're just you're in a place where you didn't have to create a comfortable environment because you already live in one. So I feel like that kind of like puts that issue to rest. You still want to have a warm welcoming office, but from a client perspective, we didn't have the stress. We're in the comfort of our own home, I think all of that. And then how about this?

We've joked about this a lot too, is let's say you're a brand new client and you call in and you schedule from California, Newport News, wherever you may be, and 30 minutes in, we're not who we say we are, right? We always say at Mason & Associates, things are what they seem. We're here to support, empower, educate, and motivate.

But let's say for whatever reason, you don't like the way I part my hair after you joined the Zoom call. And you're like, “Wow, John's super irritating. I don't want to work with Mason & Associates.” You just hit the red hang-up button and you're gone, baby. It's gone.

Ben Raikes:Slam that laptop down. We're over.

John MasonYeah. It is, I think, actually impossible. Like you talk about sales technique and sales training, but at the end of the day, you can't really sell anybody on a virtual meeting. They have to be that buy-in. They have to be excited about doing what you're doing. If you're sending documents via DocuSign, you can't push the paper over to the other side and be like, “Sign here,” right?

So you think about the entire experience, it's a lot less intimidating. And what we found is you can still have really good human connection. It's different, but you can still relate to people. You can still connect with people because it's not necessarily the handshake that creates the relationship as much as it is our ability to listen, ask good questions, and genuinely care about the other people, whether across the desk from you or on a webcam, if you actually care that translates. And that's what generates the relationship.

Tommy Blackburn: It's interesting. I guess a couple of things there. It's really experience-related. Well, I think as we came out of COVID and we're forced to do this, really, you said millennials, I would say we were toying with this, but like what really, it was COVID, just like the rest of the world.

But we couldn't. We experienced it and we took a step back and said, “This is a better experience not just for us. This is for our clients so we shouldn't get away from this. We need to embrace it at this point.” You mentioned the DocuSigns or, yeah, DocuSign slash paper and I'm thinking, as you said, that go back to somebody's carved out four hours of their day, that sales technique or where it could come in where it's hey, three hours into this after multiple meetings, somebody puts paper in front of you.

You're probably like, “I'll sign if it gets me out of here.” Whereas now, yeah, there's no pressure to it. You can exit the meeting whenever. It's getting sent to you electronically, sign it, don't sign it, do it at your leisure. It's all really on your demand at that point versus this time commitment piece.

The other piece was the experience. Well, really it's all the experience, but we found that being able to pull the financial plan up in moments during the meeting, and because we're all looking at the same screen, we're all then focused on the same thing. And then we bring it, we take it away, and we're back to having that interaction that we want to have. So I think it's really such a better client experience, all around experience of just let's have the face to face and read each other and the emotional relationship part. But when it's time to focus, we're all looking at the same thing and able to draw good attention to what it is we need to focus on.

Ben Raikes: I mean, I was, as you're talking about that, Tommy, it makes me think of, you know, we still do have a few in-person meetings per year, we don't completely cancel them and it's the classic we'll be going over some piece of information and you'll slide a report over or you'll slide a piece of paper over and then you keep talking about what's really important on your mind and you look over and your client is just like this.

Reading something on the report that you handed in that's completely insignificant. Now imagine that in the virtual room where it's like, “Hey, this is the only screen that you can see. And here's what is of utmost importance.” And we're able to kind of tailor that experience, I think, a bit better than, “Hey, we're meeting in person. Here's this report. Here's that report. Here's your tax return that we looked at.” Client’s overwhelmed. They don't necessarily know what to pay attention to. I don't fault them for that, but really doing that virtually I think allows for a better experience ‘cause we're just, we're really, we're all on the same page.

John Mason: Well, the Zoom tools like the highlighter, the ability to draw a box around what you want to see. We don't want to dominate. I don't want our listeners to think we really control the entire conversation because one of the things we say in every meeting is, “We have an agenda. We think we know what's important to talk about today,” but what's most important to you or what's hot on your mind that you want to make sure we cover, and if that's completely different than what we thought, we throw it out the window and we move on.

But we are really good at guiding the conversation. We are really good about showing things at an appropriate time. Like if you were in a college class or a high school class or we're an educator, like, yes, we're financial planners, but really what we do is educate and being able to guide those conversations, show what's important, show it, pull it back, show it, pull it back and be able to create that great end client experience, I think, is really cool.

I mean a lot of the stuff that we're looking at is complicated. We don't want to spend a ton of time looking at cash flows, for example, but let's say we do. Let's say there's a material reason to look at a cash flow chart with a client. Well, there's 15 categories. And if you pull that up on a conference room TV, poof, gone, you lost them. It's over. It is a completely useless screen. But in a Zoom meeting, you can zoom in, then you can draw a box around the number that you care about, and you can focus the attention right there. And it's a completely different experience than me having to get up, hide half the television, point, do all these things.

so, Tommy, you mentioned, and I think you both did, that we do some in-person meetings still. So, if a new client were to call, the conversation goes something like this. “Mr. And Mrs. Jones, yes, we'd love to meet with you. We understand that meeting in person is very important as we kick off the relationship.” We're okay doing that and we'd like to do that in the first meeting. Our preference really would be to do all of it virtual but if we really need to do the first meeting in person, we'll do that. But where we draw the line is meeting number two has to be Zoom because we know when we're presenting your financial plan that educational experience is so much better and we were almost guaranteeing you that after you experience that you'll be okay with virtual meetings going forward.

And we also need you to know that the primary method that will be delivering financial planning advice is Zoom or is virtual. So that first meeting is a good one to have in person. The second, third, fourth as you begin getting into delivering the plan and implementing the experience in our opinion, and I think our clients would agree, it's much better Zoom or virtual and just as a side note, I had a client come into the office yesterday and we were going to help them apply for social security and Medicare. And what do you think they forgot? Their username and password. They're like, “Oh, it's at home on my desk.” It's like, “Well, guess you're going to have to do it solo.” I don't know, “I can't help you now,” and so it's a way different–

Tommy Blackburn: That’s such an interesting in my, where my mind just moved on that was not only is it easier, I think, a lot of times for us to assist virtually, but a lot of times the way to conversation goes, I think, with all of us with clients, let's just use, again, I think the social security application doing that online, it's usually, “Hey client, I do this quite a bit. I'm going to walk you through the process. Would you prefer to do it on your screen or my screen?”

Usually, folks say, “Just do it on yours. You're very fast.” And so the other hidden benefit, though, of where I'm going with this is we take, we're very good at knowing what to take PDFs of, what information to save, so usually as we're going through those type of implementations, we're saving PDFs and saving information, which we'll then have in our files, so that if there's ever a question, ever need to refer back, we've got it at our fingertips, and then we're going to securely send it to you so you have it as well. And so I think that's, again, just that client experience of like how nice is that? Not only did we walk through it, but we documented it and we both have those documents now.

John Mason: And as silly as it sounds, and our clients are not un-tech savvy, I think they're pretty good, generally speaking, the folks we work with, but knowing how to file print to PDF, knowing how to combine seven individual PDFs into a single PDF or being able to help log into a 401k and download a statement and immediately have all those things, we call it what it is. We're faster at that stuff than 99% of our clients.

But I thought what you were going to say is, in person, “Mr. and Mrs. Jones, please log into your social security website.” Well, they can tell me their password out loud and I can type it in. I can hand the keyboard over and they can type it in. Virtually, you can just pass a mouse control and say, “Hey, type in your username and password.”

I don't need to know it. I don't need to see it. I don't even have to be tempted to look at the keyboard when you're typing it in because you're doing it on the other end. I think it's also good from a security standpoint.

Tommy Blackburn: That is 100% how we do it. Pass the mouse over. I guess a hidden benefit, not that we are IT support, but sometimes these Zoom meetings allow us to help clients troubleshoot some issues they're running through.

“It's all right. Show me your screen. Give me the mouse. Let me see if I can help you out here.” And I don't think it's maybe we're a little more tech-savvy on some things, but I think it's just like being a professional, and this being what we do every day, so many times, right? So saving print to PDF is one thing, but it's just knowing, “Hey, I go through social security applications all the time.”

‘Cause that's the example we've been hitting. And I know what the next screens are. I know when we've got to the end. So I know when it's appropriate to save information. Like I know what's critical here. So it's just, it's again, just having that trusted guide who you can figure this all out on yourself, but it's a lot easier when somebody's been through it hundreds of times, and they've distilled down what's important.

Ben Raikes: That's such a good point, Tommy, and one that I wanted to bring up when I was talking at the very beginning. I think I said I might be a little bit nervous for this podcast because of my hesitation to do Zoom meetings prior to joining Mason and part of that hesitation was I maybe did a Zoom meeting every third or fourth meeting that I held and I never actually felt that I got good at doing Zoom meetings and I think that kind of energy was passed through into the meeting like “Yeah, here's how you share your screen, actually click on the button on the top left. Actually, now it's on the bottom right.” And I think that we can instill confidence in our clients Just by what you said. “Here's where you click. Here's how you do things.” John, to your point, knowing how to use the tools, how to highlight, how to box things, us being very adept at this process, I think, gives a lot of competence to our clients rather than us trying to fumble through something together because we hadn't done it before.

John Mason: So you also have the tools at our disposal to serve our clients, right? So we use RightCapital, we use HolistaPlan, we use Savvy Social Security Calculators, we have spreadsheets that we build for different scenarios. And one of the things we like to say at the beginning of the meeting, just like the audience, if you're watching this on YouTube, you've seen my eyes have kind of moved around a little bit. Well, it's because I have three monitors. And on this monitor, I have my show notes and on this monitor I have what I have. And same thing during a client meeting. They're big on the middle monitor and then we've got the financial plan or the tax projection or whatever we need at our disposal so that if the conversation pivots, we can instantly pivot. And that's much harder to do around a conference table.

Tommy Blackburn: I think that's the point there too, right? It's like you would have gone into an in-person meeting probably having all this as well, but because it was visible or you put the report in there, thumbing through it, it's just far less distracting if it's, I've got these all ready to go and when I know it's valuable, I'll bring it in, but it's not distracting by having it in front of you right now.

John Mason: For sure. And then Ben, to your point, the passion example, it's like if you're not passionate or you don't think you can do a good job as an advisor, that certainly will trickle down into a client meeting. So being able to flip that switch and be able to like, “Yes, we can provide tremendous value,” whether it's in person or virtual, or frankly, telephone, like maybe that's the ultimate skills.

If you can have a phenomenal financial planning meeting audio only, like wow, you must be really good at your job if you can do that. And then we would just say that's probably not ideal. We're very much, we either want to see you virtually or in person rather than the phone. So a lot of good things.

We're getting close to wrapping up this podcast. But I thought of maybe one or two other reasons that this pivot to virtual has helped us. And I also want to hit towards the end the things that we maybe miss about in person meetings or the negatives that we may see from the virtual meetings.

So the ability for both spouses to join, Ben, you had a great phone call the other day with a new prospective client. And one of the conversations was, “I understand Mr. and Mrs. Jones, that you are the primary decision maker as it relates to your finances. But it's very important for us, for your spouse to be there because if you're not in the picture, meaning you're dead or disabled, or you can't join, we need to know that your spouse also trusts us and know what the plan is.”

My uncle, our business partner, Ken, has said this for a long time, “Just because you die doesn't mean the plan changes,” right? Well, it does change if the spouse has never been a part of it. So, what am I getting at? I'm getting at it's a lot easier for both spouses to attend, right? So instead of having a 4-hour commitment, it's an hour commitment.

And if both spouses can join from their lunch break, and one works in Virginia Beach and the other works in York County, well, now they don't have to come together to jointly drive to a meeting, right? They can both just join from wherever they are. So I think that's a huge benefit, but maybe y'all can also touch on, and we're doing this a little bit with our older clients is the ability to bring in a trustee.

The ability to bring in a child, the ability to bring in a family member to those meetings. And as some of our clients get older, I think we're seeing tremendous benefit in being able to bring in those third parties.

Ben Raikes: I think absolutely, John. A lot of times this happens with everybody's family.

The clients get older, the parents get older, the kids are up and they've graduated college, and guess what? Now they don't live in Virginia anymore, or they don't live exactly where their parents do. And we say, “Hey, we've been saying it for years and years and years, we'd love to meet your son, or we'd love to meet your daughter, or we'd love to meet your children and have them involved in one of these meetings.”

And normally it comes, “Well, I think that they might be in in June or maybe around Thanksgiving and then if not Thanksgiving, maybe Christmas they'll come visit,” and it just never happens. It's been so much easier to get an entire family on board and to meet those children, to meet that next generation when you can say, just what you said, John, “Hey, I think he normally takes his lunch break around one o'clock.” “I'm retired. I'll be available at one. Let's go ahead and schedule that call now.”

I mean, boom, there it is no longer having to say, “Let's come in for a meeting around the holidays ‘cause that's when my kids are here.” I think it's so much easier to have kids involved. And then to your point, other professionals as well, if we need to bring in whomever they use for their taxes or a trustee or just their estate documents, rather than, “Hey, we've got to go to their office in Richmond,” or let's bring them in via Zoom meeting. Exactly. Let's bring them in during our Zoom meeting together and we can actually look at the same documents on the screen together instead of thumbing through and flipping through and have them try to translate to you what this means when you're all on literally potentially on different pages. It's a great point, John.

John Mason: All right. So as we get close to wrapping this up, let me ask you a question, both of you, and maybe Tommy, you take it first is do you miss having as many in-person meetings as we grew up having both, all three of us, have been in the industry for over a decade, and we've all made this evolution from 99% in person to 90 percent or more virtual.

So the question that I'll pose to you, Tommy, first is do you miss those in-person meetings? And maybe what do you miss about having as many in-person meetings as we used to have? And maybe Ben, as Tommy's thinking about it, maybe you take the first crack at it.

Ben Raikes: Yeah, so for any clients that may be listening now number one, I love you guys, I love meeting with you over Zoom and then the interactions when we've had in-person, I love those as well. But I have to say there's not a whole lot that I miss about those in-person meetings because of what we had described before, because of you all having to wait in a lobby, because of us having to thumb through different documents, for us not necessarily being on the same page when we're looking at different documents.

And what has been truly great is. Even though we've been 90 plus percent virtual, what we did have at the end of last year, John, is we had our client event. We had our client event, which was our opportunity to get together and not just go over finances, but to just celebrate, to have fun, to shake hands, to see each other in person.

When I joined Mason, it was in COVID times. So I had never met almost all of our clients I had met virtually and so I was truly excited to be able to shake hands, see how tall someone is or how short they are, see what they look like in person. That was truly special to me, but I think when we get together I'd rather get together to celebrate and tell stories because I think that's more appropriate for that occasion. And when it's time to focus and go through plans and go through taxes and go through details I still really enjoy doing that virtually

John Mason: Awesome. Well, then I, what I'll say along with that too is, I'm an extreme introvert, or I'm sorry, extrovert, definitely not an introvert. I'm an extreme extrovert. So I get a lot of energy from personal interactions with clients, being with you guys when you're in the office, being with clients when they're that–it gets me excited.

It gets me motivated and keeps me going. And I will say that virtual just doesn't do it the same way for me as an extrovert that an in-person meeting does. So, what I notice is physically it's more tiring for me to do virtual meetings. Physically, I don't get the same jolts of energy. I think Sarah, my spouse, has noticed the same thing that I just don't have that same, you know, I don't go home recharged like I used to some days. And so I do miss that. I do miss the hugs. I'm also very good at wasting time, and I'm also very good at using any extra block of time to do fun things. So yesterday, my in-person meeting ran 30 minutes longer than it was supposed to because we were just talking about skiing and snowboarding and it had nothing–and at the end of the day, we have to create space for that too. And that is a little bit harder to get that from a virtual meeting. But I will promise our audience and our listeners that if I have an extra 15 minutes in between appointments and you want to talk about snowboarding, that probably also happens in a Zoom meeting

Tommy Blackburn: So, let's see have I caught up to you guys, sorry. We acknowledge this. I don't know how this software is going to clean it up on the back end. Maybe it'll make it seem seamless, but for the audience peek behind the curtain there for whatever reason the technology was not cooperating with me. So Ben and John have been having an entire conversation while my laptop has been getting caught up. Hopefully I caught most of what was being said. I know the question when I left off was I believe what do you miss about virtual? Was there more?

John Mason: What do you miss about, what do you miss about in-person and do you miss in-person meetings?

Tommy Blackburn: Yeah, I think by and large there's, it's hard to say, like I couldn't give an absolute answer, I guess is where I'm kind of like hesitating here in that you'll always miss certain aspects of the in-person.

I think I heard you say, John, like the hugs. Some of just that personal in-person interaction. You just, you can't ever get that anywhere else. You can get pretty close I think on Zoom, but you can't quite get there. That's what I'll miss the most is just, there's just sometimes certain human-to-human interaction that you just can't replace.

But thankfully, I think we can do pretty good on Zoom. Outside of that, I don't know that I miss it a ton because I do feel like the experience is so much better virtually. And being able to connect with clients from near and far, being able to have so many resources at your fingertips, I think is, it's just, it's hard to beat that.

And we've gotten compliments from clients, new ones, who have said, “No, I feel like this was just as good as it would have been in person. It's fine.” ‘Cause they'll drop by the office to drop off signed paperwork or something. So this is usually a chance for us to meet them in person as well, which is always fun.

But they'll usually say “No, I feel like one of the family, you guys have been so warm and inviting.” That don't, doesn't need to be in person. So there's some aspects that you just can't replace, but by and large, I think that virtual has been a pretty big pivot for us. And I did catch the end where you were talking about just having fun socializing, which we all do, we all enjoy.

Getting to know clients and them know us personally and talking about our lives. And I can certainly attest that sometimes because our offices are beside each other, I hear John talking about whether it's skiing and snowboarding or the latest diet-type things that he's on and it's all worked out very well for him.

Based on reason, but yes, I definitely hear these conversations happen between all. I'm sure you guys hear me too. So it is fun. It's fun sometimes just to hear the personal conversations that happen with clients.

John Mason: Well guys, I think this has been an awesome episode of the Federal Employee Financial Planning podcast. My, I think our hope, my hope is that what the audience takes away from this is yes, we're humans. Yes, we like our job.

Yes, we like doing financial planning. No, we're not scared of human interaction. No, we're not scared of people. In fact, we actually really like people, but through technology and our ability to serve existing clients better, we're able to use not only our physical office, but also virtual tools to make that education experience even better, and as importantly, able to connect with folks across the country who like what we're doing on this podcast, who want to become clients of Mason & Associates.

So as we wrap this up, I do want to give just a notice to our listeners. One, thank you for–we're on third year now doing this. So thank you for cheering us on. Thank you for the five-star ratings and any comments or feedback that you have. We'd love to hear from you. If you'd like to be a client of Mason & Associates, you can start that process at or our phone number. We have live humans that actually answer the phone, which is rare. 7572239898. You can become a client. We have episodes that talk about how we serve folks. So if you're interested, you can kick start that process anytime.

Now we do want to share with you that by the time this launches, this episode will probably be in the thick of strategic planning meeting season, so we typically take on new clients in the first quarter, January through March, and then like third and fourth quarter. So like summertime into September, October, that's when we bring on new client relationships.

So if you're interested, that's just think about that timing. You're probably not going to get a meeting with us tomorrow. So we need to plan for when are you retiring? When do you have these decisions that need to make? And if you're retiring in December of 2025, like we should be kicking off that relationship now, not waiting until sometime summer of 2025 to get the ball rolling.

So thank you for being a listener. If you're a client, thank you for being a client of Mason & Associates. Remember, things are what they seem. We're here to support, empower, educate, and motivate you to make a change in your financial plan. Thank you for tuning in to another episode of the Federal Employee Financial Planning podcast. Thank you, Tommy. Thank you, Ben. And we'll see you next time right here, Federal Employee Financial Planning .

The topics discussed on this podcast represent our best understanding of federal benefits and are for informational and educational purposes only, and should not be construed as investment, financial planning, or other professional advice.

We encourage you to consult with the office of personnel management and one or more professional advisors before taking any action based on the information presented.