The Journal Gazette
Sunday, May 03, 2020 1:00 am

Planners staying calm

Clients seeking more than financial advice

LISA GREEN | The Journal Gazette

Christopher Moore has always had a home office, but it's better to talk to clients in person in his real workspace.

“You can read people's faces a little bit better than when it's on the phone,” said Moore, a certified financial planner and owner of Moore & Associates. “You can really read the stress on people by their body language and their face.”

Since the coronavirus outbreak was declared a global pandemic, Moore and other financial planners have resorted to other communication means to help reduce anxiety from clients who have spent weeks watching the financial markets' roller coaster ride.

Skype and FaceTime technology have helped them make some visual connections while thousands have been complying with social distancing to reduce the spread of the respiratory illness.

But the coronavirus crisis has brought layers of complexity and stress not evidenced by the calm demeanors financial planners typically exhibit.

First, while investment firms have models for downturns, the volatility amid the coronavirus has planners constantly studying tweaks to formulas and predictions of what's to come that are unprecedented.

They also have had to figure out how to deliver that information as their own businesses were turned upside down because of stay-at-home orders – all while making sure the plans they had for their own families were practical.

Financial professionals have found themselves counseling not just on the economy and personal portfolios but also discussing health, and the return to work and normalcy with clients, said Kelly Olson Pedersen, founder of Caissa Wealth Strategies in Bloomington, Minnesota.

“It's more the human side of our business right now rather than the math,” Olson Pedersen said.

Moore uses the analogy of viewing a duck on top of water, looking calm but “paddling like heck” underneath.

A financial adviser has to exhibit calmness, despite the financial crisis the coronavirus has created for many.

“We have to almost act like a first responder when these things happen because most people have never gone through a pandemic,” Moore said. “It just doesn't seem like we were as prepared for this as we should've been.”

After more than 30 years in financial services, Moore said he still relies on wisdom from his paternal grandmother: Plan for the best and prepare for the worse.

Matthew Tuttle, an adviser in an Edina, Minnesota office of Ameriprise, said his daily challenges are very similar to his clients'. That makes it easy to relate: “managing our workday with children at home, dealing with slower internet, a smaller workspace than we are accustomed to, less human interaction given all meetings are virtual, and most importantly, our normal daily routine has changed significantly.”

Ian D. Boyce, certified financial planner in Fort Wayne, understands that. He's an owner and founding partner in Dickmeyer Boyce Financial Management, which has a staff of seven.

“I think everyone is tired of Zoom meetings and Go ToMeetings,” Boyce said last week. But for the most part, work has not been impeded by the social distancing maintained by not working in a central location.

Along with doing usual business tasks, owners are also concerned about employees remaining healthy and not feeling overwhelmed, including wondering about their job security, Boyce said.

“Our goal has always been to retain every employee we have,” he said.

Boyce and others at his firm are spending more time communicating with clients, primarily through email.

Established clients have portfolios designed to “prepare for the unexpected, but certainly nothing like this,” Boyce said.

“But we always like to say the plan should let you know what to do when things don't go as planned.” 

Nathan Shelton, financial adviser with Shelton Financial Group, said working virtually required adapting quickly.

“When we see the market drop like we did over the last several weeks, we try to make ourselves available to our clients as resources to help make sense of the circumstances,” Shelton said. “Because of where we find ourselves today, that has looked a lot different. It has been more phone calls than face to face meetings. It has been more webinars than client events. It has been more mail and emails going out.”

Making sure clients have a solid plan is always critical.

“We want to have a plan for any scenario or market environment so that the emotion and fear (or greed) doesn't overtake our long-term strategy,” Shelton said.

The Star Tribune in Minneapolis contributed to this story.

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