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Despite Return to Work, Virtual Meetings Will Continue to Disrupt Business as Usual in Finance

By Mark Loehr, CEO, OpenExchange

Virtual meetings are reshaping the financial services industry—particularly where M&A and investor days are concerned.

Virtual meetings have permanently changed how the finance industry conducts business. The shift away from the “must meet in person” mentality to instead incorporate the ability for people to connect via video from anywhere has not only forever upended how finance professionals operate—it has also solidified their commitment to using digital tools to unite with stakeholders, present business, and manage dealmaking.

When considering disruptive technologies in finance, virtual meetings may not have been the first thing that came to mind in the past. But over the past few years—as the COVID-19 pandemic unleashed an increased reliance on remote communications and events—virtual meetings have emerged as the perfect example of how firms are embracing digital strategies to keep pace with innovation.

The efficiencies, speed, convenience, discretion, and cost-savings of virtual meetings have led to this format continuing to dominate many work environments. In fact, despite the return-to-office policies at many financial firms, these flexible remote meetings remain a keystone of communication in financial services. In particular, research verifies that when it comes to dealmaking and investor days, virtual meetings are reshaping the way that financial professionals work every day, while also affecting the future of finance at large.

The Predominant Way to Transact M&A

Highly secretive merger and acquisition (M&A) transactions require many meetings and tend to progress quickly.  Since time is of the essence, dealmaking meetings are often difficult to schedule with short lead times and shifting calendars. A 2022 Deloitte survey of merger and acquisition trends polled 1,300 executives at corporations and private equity investor (PEI) firms. Not surprisingly, a strong majority of respondents shared that their organizations have developed processes and tools to digitally facilitate multiple deal elements across the entire M&A lifecycle. The study found that well over half (58%) of respondents expected to manage dealmaking transaction execution virtually in the next year, compared to just 19% who planned to do so in person.

Deloitte also reported that in addition to transaction execution, a virtual approach is also the preferred and most likely option by far at every other stage of the M&A lifecycle—from due diligence through integration—compared to both hybrid and in-person options. As Karima Porter, a principal at Deloitte Consulting LLP, states in Deloitte’s report: “Companies are looking for ways to be more nimble. Digital tools and assets allow global teams to work and collaborate more efficiently, reducing time spent on transaction activities, and ultimately completing engagements in less total time and with fewer resources.”

One reason that M&A leaders prefer virtual meetings to in-person or even hybrid approaches is that professionally managed virtual meetings use tools that incorporate strict controls with proper use of waiting rooms and breakout sessions. Unlike in-person meetings, which can have greater security risks, professionally managed virtual meetings help parties ensure that the right people are participating in the meetings at any given time, facilitating leak prevention and ensuring critical information remains secure. It’s essential that all of the right attendees are present and no one who is not part of the deal process is allowed to join.

Another benefit of professionally managed virtual meetings for M&A dealmakers is that they allow these executives to cycle through vital meetings without the burden of  time-consuming travel. Deals that used to take weeks or months with travel and face-to-face settings can be cut down to hours or days by conducting the same meetings virtually.  Additionally, the logistics of scheduling meetings is hugely simplified since the travel component is eliminated.  Stuffed calendars are more easily accommodated and admins are no longer scrambling to minimize the ripples caused by delayed flights, heavy traffic or even household illness.

Investor Days

Investor days have a different objective and format than M&A meetings—they are inclusive, single-day events that are usually planned and scripted far in advance to allow a company to tell their story to investors, analysts, and prospective investors.  Investor days are broad affairs, and a primary marker of success is the quality and quantity of attendance. Traditionally, investor days have been expected to be held in-person. Yet today and for the foreseeable future, professionally managed virtual meetings are enhancing investor days, shifting them from in-person to virtual settings as needed or preferred.

As with transaction execution, virtual investor days offer many benefits for organizations and participants alike. First and foremost, the virtual format enables broader accessibility, allowing people to join from across the globe—again without having to worry about travel or other logistical costs and restrictions. It’s also much simpler to record virtual investor days compared to their in-person counterparts, and easier to make them available online for anyone unable to attend the sessions live.

Furthermore, going virtual for investor days offers the opportunity for participants to leverage expanded options by making it possible to do things that can be difficult in an in-person setting, such as:

  • Taking a factory tour
  • Visiting a laboratory
  • Showing the inside of a new retail store concept

Finally, professionally managed virtual meetings can increase attendees’ attention, since this format allows for enhanced storytelling and puts a wealth of tools and knowledge at participants’ fingertips. Polls, data transfer, and seamless, high-quality presentations are just a few of the enhancements that companies can use to augment the investor-day experience and ensure that people tune in. These types of virtual tools empower executives to deliver their company narratives in more engaging fashion, while keeping stakeholders more informed and confident.

The Future of Finance Is Virtual

Business hasn’t been “as usual” in quite some time, and for those in finance who expected things to go “back to normal,” there’s news: the industry will never go back to the way things were before. Virtual meeting technology is a key reason behind this rapid evolution, and serves as a behind-the-scenes disruptor in the world of finance, modifying the way industry professionals conduct business and increasing the speed at which they’re able to initiate and close critical deals.

According to the research firm Gartner, virtual is here to stay, with the shift away from in-person meetings that started during the pandemic “expected to continue.” Gartner predicts that by 2024, in-person meetings will drop from 60% of enterprise meetings to 25%, largely due to remote work and changing workplace demographics.

As finance becomes more and more digital, the way finance professionals work will evolve in a similar fashion. Financial institutions and corporations that incorporate virtual meetings into their overall strategy can build communities and strengthen their brand proposition to relevant audiences. Going forward, virtual meetings and events will continue to influence how the industry conducts business, educating the next generation of financial services leaders who will draw on the vast repositories of content created from these digital experiences.

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