- With more than 40 million people having applied for unemployment benefits and close to 2 million Americans infected with Covid-19, financial advisors have had to shore up their businesses and step-up service.
- Adaptations include moving to remote work, but also checking in with clients to ensure they are weathering the storm.
- As the economy contracts, clients need sound financial advice now more than ever.
Our nation is facing unprecedented times, and financial advisors are facing upheaval when their clients need them the most.
More than 40 million people have applied for unemployment benefits since early March, while the economic outlook remains grim. The Atlanta Federal Reserve projects that the nation's gross domestic product during the second quarter will decline by close to 53%.
At the same time, close to 2 million Americans have been diagnosed with coronavirus.
Through it all, advisors have undertaken drastic measures to keep their businesses running, so that they can offer investors some measure of certainty and stability in otherwise frightening times.
Here's how three financial advisors have renewed their commitment to their clients.
Stacy Francis, a certified financial planner and the president and CEO of Francis Financial in New York, applied for a Paycheck Protection Program loan in April.
She was hoping to keep afloat Savvy Ladies her non-profit group which provides personal finance education and assistance to low- and middle-income women.
"Our revenues have gone down 40% versus the previous year," said Francis, adding that the organization's annual fundraising gala had to be moved online, and, "several board members needed to step off for financial reasons."
While money has been drying up, "the need for our services have never been greater," Francis said. "We're fielding calls from women in financially dire straits."
She called the government forgivable loan "a lifesaver." It allowed her to retain her staff and continue to serve women who need help with their finances.
"We're going to get through the year now," she said.
Francis said her firm is also servicing clients differently amid the pandemic.
"We have identified those clients that are quarantined and alone and those who are most vulnerable, and reaching out to them on a much more regular basis," Francis said.
The firm is also hosting weekly webinars on Mondays at 8 a.m., where market conditions are explained to clients. The hope is to quell fear during all this dizzying uncertainty.
Even before the coronavirus pandemic hit, Guy Cumbie, CFP and president of Cumbie Advisory Services in Fort Worth, Texas, spent a good deal of time discussing his clients' health.
Conversations bounced from risk tolerance to diabetes, time horizon to heart disease. Cumbie asks his clients about their family history, and how they're doing now.
"We're asking, 'How are you sleeping? How many hours are you getting?'" he said. "It's risk management."
That practice has proven helpful in the current environment, with clients eager for information on how the public health crisis will impact them.
Cumbie sends out regular emails, explaining topics like the difference between a treatment for coronavirus and a vaccine. He gives clients tips on wearing masks and social distancing.
"People are paying attention to their health, and therefore prolonging their life is what brings relevance to all the more mechanistic things we do," Cumbie said.
He said the pandemic has also provided "an opportunity for real-world stress testing of risk tolerance."
Although Cumbie tries to get a sense of how much anxiety a client can handle through assessments, many still freak out when their investments go red.
"If we've overestimated their psycho-emotional risk tolerance, then we take careful note of that and make portfolio adjustments," Cumbie said. Usually, he said, that means paring back equities.
Most communication with clients has moved to the phone or email, but his practice was seeing that trend long before the public health crisis hit.
"Not that we didn't do in-person client meetings, but they're not nearly as frequent as they used to be," Cumbie said. "People have gotten used to the convenience of email, doing stuff when they want."
Richard J. Busillo, CFP and CEO of RTD Financial Advisors, looks forward to returning to the office.
"One of the more difficult things through all of this is the isolation," Busillo said. "We're a pretty close organization. Just being away from each other has been something we've had to adapt to."
The close-knit team is working from home, prepping for client meetings together over video chat and calls. Advisors have been virtually meeting with clients once a month, as opposed to a few times a year before the pandemic.
"This gives us the opportunity to check in on how they're feeling with all that is going on," Busillo said.
The firm also sends clients emails about how recent legislation, such as The CARES Act, could impact their financial plans.
Though the transition to virtual meetings was a smooth one, Busillo misses the personal connection of seeing clients in person – the way his firm has interacted with investors for close to 40 years.
"We've seen their families grow up, children, grandchildren, meeting with clients is like a reunion," he said. "We don't want to let go of that part."