Advisors share lessons learned from a challenging 2020

The global pandemic and economic turmoil of 2020 brought a range of unexpected and unique challenges to financial planning firms, ranging from market instability to office lockdowns and greater dependency on communications technology in the absence of face-to-face contact.

“For the vast majority of investors, the coronavirus was like an iceberg that struck quickly,” said Jonathan Sarver, CPWA, and Peter Vrooman, CFA, partners and wealth advisors at Sarver Vrooman Wealth Advisors in Kansas City, Missouri. “Most are finding it difficult to fully assess the breadth and depth of the economic, social, and health consequences that lie below the surface.”

With the “new normal” now several months old, Advisors Magazine asked several financial advisors how they have successfully adjusted their practices to better serve clients during these uneasy times.

A critical part of each firm’s approach has been heightened client communications. Just before the downturn started, a study by YCharts revealed almost two-thirds of financial clients do not hear from their advisors as often as they would like. Meanwhile, a McKinsey survey earlier this year found 64 percent of Americans felt depressed and/or anxious during the pandemic.

“People felt so disconnected during the pandemic and were hungry for contact,” said Rachel Lauber, CFP®, a financial planner in Clifton Park, New York. “When you reached out, they were tremendously grateful. I think that has gone a long way toward solidifying my client relationships.”

Since the pandemic began, Sarver Vrooman Wealth Advisors has scheduled a full calendar of meetings; emailed clients; and called customers to keep them updated on the firm’s views. They also shared research and correspondence from the Wells Fargo Advisors Financial Network and Wells Fargo Investment Institute.
Sarver and Vrooman said they recently conducted a client group conference call to review their economic and market outlook, and to answer questions. They plan to conduct more monthly group calls while continuing individual client meetings.

zoom450“The entire team is working remotely to serve clients with Zoom meetings and teleconferences,” they added. “Technically our office is open as an essential service, but the vast majority of clients prefer to meet virtually or through teleconference. We do not want to expose clients or ourselves to unnecessary health risks. While the team has been saving both time and gas by working from home, we look forward to face-to-face client interaction, regular client events, and hosting educational seminars.”

Jay Pelham, CFP® , president, Kaufman Rossin Wealth in Miami, said his firm responded to the pandemic by creating a new service line, Business Recovery & Resiliency Services. The service was launched in collaboration with affiliates Kaufman Rossin (a CPA advisory firm) and Kaufman Rossin Insurance Services.

“Business Recovery & Resiliency Services is specifically designed to help our clients through these challenging times,” Pelham said. “Over the past few months, we have been sharing timely and relevant educational information and insights with clients through webinars, blog posts, newsletters and other channels. The topics have ranged from how to stay calm and focused in a volatile market, to estate and gift tax planning opportunities that could provide significant tax savings right now.”

Kaufman Rossin Wealth also reached out to individual clients. Advisors listen to client concerns and provide guidance that aligns with the financial plans the firm created alongside its customers.

“Developing and maintaining strong relationships with our clients is crucial, especially during these times,” Pelham said. “We strive to be a source of stability and guidance for them in the midst of uncertainty.”

In New York, Lauber said the pandemic presented a unique opportunity for her to highlight the flexibility and adaptability of her business model.

“We have a small number of employees and were able to move rapidly to working from home,” Lauber said. “As soon as the state went into lockdown in mid-March, I decided to close my offices until further notice. We did not reopen until June 15.”

Her team immediately sent a newsletter to all their clients via email or snail-mail. Team members then began pro-actively calling clients to touch base. Lauber also worked with her website provider to create a Facebook page where she shares all her newsletters.

“As the two-week lockdown turned into a two-month lockdown, phone meetings evolved into Zoom meetings and Facetime calls,” Lauber continued. “I began to look for ways to upgrade our clients’ access to information. We began migrating to eMoney {a financial planning software platform} so clients would have better access to content during our Zoom calls in what might be a permanently changed world.”

Jorin Bale a financial advisor in Boulder, Colorado, who is registered through CUSO Financial Services, added the tumultuous economic climate reinforces the need for financial planning and maintaining strong client relationships.

“In just about every situation where we have done financial planning and earmarked assets to serve a specific purpose for a client,” Bale said, “it has been beneficial to review the plan to highlight the ability to ride out volatility where more risk is present.”

Being proactive through market cycles such as the current environment is critical, Bale added. The ability to identify specific clients who were at higher risk (such as those planning to retire soon) helped him prioritize which clients to call first. He also touched base with customers on topics beyond their portfolios.

“This has certainly been different from other market downturns, given the potential health risks that are present,” Bale said. “Despite the challenges and increased workload during times like this, I feel a strengthened resolve to run my practice through deep relationships centered on financial planning.”


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