Rebuilding your practice in a post-COVID world
by Roger VierraMr. Vierra is Senior Vice President – Investments, The Vierra Group, a UBS Financial Services affiliate located in Rockland, Ma.
“Living with Purpose” — even before the phrase became our team’s mantra, it was our guiding principal with every conversation, research project or presentation we shared with clients. And, especially during uncertain times like today, “living with purpose” motivates us to make a positive impact on the lives of those who oversee or benefit from the retirement plans/foundations/endowments we manage.
So, how has our team been able to execute our mission during the pandemic and social distancing? For starters, I wanted to be present for my partners and their families — you see, “living with purpose” is something we share with each other, as well. Just as my family and our clients’ families have faced disruptions to everyday life, my colleagues were facing new challenges, as well. So, we spoke and “face-timed” often about how our lives were affected and what our families were doing to stay safe, have fun and maintain some sanity. And, we recognized that many of the same challenges we were facing, our clients were facing.
So, in addition to our regularly scheduled communication with clients which addressed typical plan-related issues, we also shared conversations of how our families and friends were dealing with the changes and stresses of life. We’ve always been close as a team and with our clients, and I’m confident that we’ll be even closer having been able to share this experience with each other.
Consider Your Own Life Experiences
My suggestion for other advisers — consider your own life experiences, both today and during other periods of your life when unexpected challenges have suddenly caught you by surprise. They happen to all of us from time to time. Remember how grateful you were for a call or a note from a family member or a friend who offered you encouragement or a helping hand to get you back on track. This is the time for all of us to share our concern for each other, especially for those who need help in carrying the concerns of their lives.
With the changes in routines, there certainly is a lot of conversation about how our lives and our businesses will be affected in the days ahead. As I see it, the challenge is to adapt technology to the needs and objectives of our clients, and not to adapt technology simply to make our business lives easier to manage. If we can first meet the needs, and exceed the expectations of clients, and second, make the execution and delivery of clients’ needs more efficient, then everyone wins. Our present utilization of video chatting has enabled us to adapt to current social distancing guidelines while providing an effective, easy-to-use means of communication for our clients. Whether video chatting becomes the preferred means of communication for clients when life routines normalize remains to be seen. What is important is for our team to offer our clients the choice of meeting in-person, on-site or meeting in-person, virtually. In this sense, I do believe that the traditional telephone call will likely become a “dinosaur”.
Fortunately, UBS has given our team access to secure and easy-to-use virtual platforms for years now. Adapting to the particular “technological” needs of each client is extremely important, and it can be very challenging. Our client base is quite diverse covering almost any industry you can think of and is geographically spread out over much of the country. So, the level of technological sophistication and customer preference of our clients varies greatly. Financial advisors need to be flexible and invest a great deal of time in planning how their virtual meetings will best be transmitted. Which video chatting tool will work with which clients? Do your clients have the basic knowledge of how to use them? Does a client even have the interest or capability to share a virtual meeting? In some cases, the opportunity exists for us to actually help bring our clients into the virtual world!
Considering the health and financial stresses of the day, you may be curious to know whether our message with plan managers and plan participants has changed — it certainly has. Although, today is similar to 2008-2009 in that we’ve experienced a trauma that has caused adverse financial circumstances and planning behavior, it is different in that plan participants are more often concerned about current spending needs than risk-aversion and long-term outcomes. The life and market events of 2020 require a different communication strategy which addresses the immediate financial and emotional needs of plan participants, while simultaneously maintaining a focus on their ultimate longer-term goals.
An effective message for many participants will address short- to intermediate-term budgeting needs and an emergency cash cushion for them and for their families. Often, this is a shift toward greater frugality, increased savings and an avoidance of the accumulation of credit card debt. A greater commitment to financial planning better prepares plan participants for their family’s short-term cash needs (3-12 months of expenses) while simultaneously creating a process which is less likely to create the need to “borrow” from future retirement income. Ultimately, this is the test — can plan sponsors and their service partners keep plan participants focused on their long-term goals while they and people all around them experience the trauma of having their short-term financial lives turned upside-down.
During this period of mandated social-distancing, the solution which we have offered our plan managers and plan participants is a series of regularly scheduled in-person, virtual education/information sessions. Being “present” for clients when they need us and sharing guidance at their level of sophistication, without sacrificing effectiveness, is the first priority for our plan managers and for plan participants today. Meeting content takes on the feel of “life planning” rather than traditional “financial planning”. Presentations cover not only traditional subjects such as market volatility, investor behavior and budgeting, but also very “today” subjects such as cybersecurity and raising children in uncertain times. Our intent is not only to be a trusted financial advisor for our clients, but far more meaningfully, a trusted life resource, as well.
A New Need For Resources
To do this effectively requires resources. I can understand that this will be difficult to deliver for individual financial advisors or financial advisory teams who do not receive sufficient internal support to own effective and interesting content — if you find yourself in this position, it will be necessary to create your own content or reach out to colleagues who do have the resources. And, you will have the necessary step of having your compliance officer review and approve your content before you reach out to clients. Fortunately, our team has access to a broad curriculum of investment education topics which are designed to provide plan participants with the means to gain greater confidence and effectiveness when making critical financial planning decisions. And, as I mentioned earlier, new content is frequently added so we can remain relevant to the circumstances of the moment (COVID Investment Impact, Current Market Volatility and Investor Behavior, and those previously mentioned).
Overall, feedback from our plan sponsors and plan participants during this time has been very positive. Call volumes have been up, but not as great as one may think — we’re told by clients that this is a reflection of the long-term effectiveness of our plan participant education sessions — as most plan participants remain comfortable during this unsettled time. We also recognize that many of our clients have, or are likely to design new business models for themselves, so we will need to remain in close collaboration with them, creating a service and communication plan which best suits their particular needs. It’s likely to be a fluid situation in the months ahead — a pandemic, social reform, a presidential election and trade friction — just to name a few of the issues which our clients may look to us for guidance and support. What is important for us to remember is that these are the moments when we can make a great, lasting impact on the lives of the people we work with and those we serve — this is the time for us to live with purpose.
Mr. Vierra is a Financial Advisor with UBS Financial Services Inc.,1099 Hingham Street, Rockland MA. Any information presented is general in nature and not intended to provide individually tailored investment advice. Investing involves risks and there is always the potential of losing money when you invest. The views expressed herein are those of the author and may not necessarily reflect the views of UBS Financial Services Inc. As a firm providing wealth management services to clients, UBS Financial Services Inc. offers investment advisory services in its capacity as an SEC-registered investment adviser and brokerage services in its capacity as an SEC-registered broker-dealer. Investment advisory services and brokerage services are separate and distinct, differ in material ways and are governed by different laws and separate arrangements. It is important that clients understand the ways in which we conduct business, that they carefully read the agreements and disclosures that we provide to them about the products or services we offer. For more information, please review the PDF document at ubs.com/relationshipsummary.