How Advisors Are Pivoting as the COVID-19 Pandemic Stretches On

The surge of the coronavirus delta variant forced financial advisors to revisit some of their back-to-the-office plans.

Fortunately, many learned during the past 18 months that they could run their businesses effectively and efficiently from home.

Despite working from home and making some pivots, Ray Prospero, partner advisor at AdvicePeriod in Riverside, California, says that his job has remained the same.

“Just as more clients were feeling comfortable meeting in person, the recent delta wave continues to surge, causing us to revert back to meeting virtually,” he says.

Annual reviews by video conference or phone have again taken the place of traditional face-to-face meetings, Prospero adds. “I transitioned to another firm just as the COVID-19 lockdowns were beginning and am thankful that my new firm embraces fintech and technology in general,” he says.

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Indeed, advisors were already gravitating toward greater reliance on technologies in the months and years before the coronavirus pandemic. Clients also seem ready to accept a greater degree of digital interaction with advisors.

According to a May survey commissioned by Hartford Funds, 64% of those with household income or total investable assets of $75,000 or more are comfortable discussing personal information in virtual meetings with financial professionals.

Matt Regan, president of Wealthcare in West Chester, Pennsylvania, says the firm’s advisors continue to be flexible when it comes to meeting formats that make clients most comfortable.

“We were pleasantly surprised by the quantity of virtual client meetings our advisors were doing before the pandemic, and certainly, the pace of those meetings has increased dramatically,” he says.

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Leveraging Digital Technologies During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Regan says many advisors already have the tools they need to facilitate remote work. He recommends staying connected using tools such as Calendly to easily schedule meetings.

Technologies can also assist with marketing in an industry that long relied on in-person seminars or dinner events.

“Using Zoom to do one to many presentations with clients on various topics is a great extension of the technology, and publishing original or curated content through social media like LinkedIn has become even more effective in a world where your clients are spending more time online,” Regan says.

Virtual appointments were already in use at her firm pre-pandemic, says Molly Ward, a financial advisor at Equitable Advisors in Houston. Her firm’s tech stack includes join.me, Microsoft Teams, risk-assessment program Riskalyze, and planning tools Asset-Map and eMoney. Her firm has also hosted informational webinars for new and existing clients.

Ward recommends developing a repeatable process for client reviews and new client meetings, using platforms such as SharePoint and Salesforce.

Even with a sophisticated approach to digital technologies, and despite the delta surge, Ward says clients are embracing the idea of meeting in person while masked.

“We have one client that didn’t want to mail a document, not due to security concerns, but because he wanted to drive to our office and see people. We were happy about that too because he’s a great storyteller,” she says. “Advisors thrive and get energy from in-person meetings. Our clients feel like our family and friends, and we miss them when we don’t see them in person.”

She adds that some clients have health concerns that would make it risky to meet in person.

“We are thankful we are able to connect with them online,” she says.

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The Hybrid-Model Office

For many firms, the balance of in-person and remote work remains in flux.

At her firm, advisors are back in the office, although some employees are on staggered schedules, says Cassandra Kirby, partner and chief operating officer at Braun-Bostitch & Associates in Canonsburg, Pennsylvania.

“We have been able to sharpen our systems, and working remotely does not seem to impact our efficiencies,” she says. “For example, we have one employee who works remotely on Fridays, and two others who work remotely on Thursdays.”

She adds that back-to-the-office policies will continue to be a work in progress, as the last 18 months have taught the firm how to pivot quickly.

A hybrid back-to-the-office model is in place for his team, says Gary Bonner, chief operating officer at tru Independence in Portland, Oregon.

For those who want to work from home, the firm implemented policies and procedures, along with technology requirements. “There’s been a percentage of employees who have been working from the office as well, and we’ve enjoyed having portions of the team back together in person,” he says.

The management team took local and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines into account when developing its policies. It sought feedback from employees and crafted an email for clients, which included a model policy that they could leverage and update for their own businesses.

“We are not mandating vaccinations for our staff,” Bonner says. “We are following local regulations on whether masks must be worn in the office.”

As the science about COVID-19 has developed, so have company protocols, says Alyssa Weinberger, senior managing director and chief marketing officer at Lido Advisors in Los Angeles.

Those protocols were formed using guidance from the CDC, as well as state and local health authorities.

The firm has mandated that all employees working from the office on a full-time or flex-time schedule must be fully vaccinated. Remote workers who never come into the office are not required to be fully vaccinated. Weinberger says the policy influenced some previously unvaccinated staffers to get the shot.

Lido requires masks in the Los Angeles office, as mandated by local public health officials in Los Angeles County.

“For the firm’s other offices, such mandates do not exist, so masks are optional in those locales,” Weinberger says.

Advisory firms, like many other businesses trying to navigate the ever-changing health and regulatory landscapes, recognize the need to remain flexible.

Open and clear communication is vital as the conditions surrounding the pandemic continue to evolve, says Jen Stein, director of client engagement at Priebe Wealth in Maple Grove, Minnesota.

“We strive to keep our clients aware of not only what is going on in the economy but also in our office,” she says. “If any of our policies change, our clients will be the first to know.”

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How Advisors Are Pivoting as the COVID-19 Pandemic Stretches On originally appeared on usnews.com

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