Advisory Firm Business Practices in a Time of Crisis

It’s important and timely to share experiences on how financial services professionals are engaging clients during a time of crisis and confusion. Unfortunately, many advisors and firm leaders may not have had previous crisis management or communications experience and may be prone to actions or communications that rely too heavily on platitudes — not meaningful actions that truly engage and comfort clients.

Everyone is learning together how to best conduct client outreach during this unprecedented time, and the best results come from deciding on a strategy in advance and tracking the client’s feedback to continuously learn and fine-tune responses. To that end, we’re happy to have Garrett Gish, Director of Global Business Services; Wesley Yuhnke, Chief Investment Officer; and Robert Scharar, President of Houston-based FCA Corp, share their firm’s leadership decisions and actions during the coronavirus pandemic with us.

In our discussion with Garrett, Wesley and Rob, our goal was to dig deeper into what true client engagement looks like. How can communication strategies build relationships and trust? Client outreach is important, but being clear and focused about what you’re communicating to the client is the key to success during a crisis. A meaningful interaction can only be defined by the client, so we sought to learn more about the interactions needed for a message that is reinforcing, consistent and effective.

What first actions did you take from a business perspective when the need for worldwide lockdowns due to the pandemic became clear?

Our first two actions as a management team was to thoroughly review our technology in the context of the pandemic’s effects and develop a strategy for engaging our clients through this crisis. We had the technological capabilities within our organization to continue day-to-day operations remotely, but still needed to supplement and tweak how we used our technology based on our new real-time experiences. At the same time, we began to focus on the logistics of keeping in touch with our clients across different mediums, with the expectation that they would no longer be able to be physically present to review documents or do client planning sessions in our office In some cases, clients lacked the level of technology in their homes to effectively interface. We then helped those clients get set up remotely to ensure we would maintain open lines of communication with them.

 How has FCA as a firm adjusted internally?

We’ve adapted quickly to using digital platforms for internal staff and client meetings. Our team has had to be flexible in dealing with the individual needs of our employees as we began working remotely and experimented with new technology. The video conference cannot fully replace the in-person meeting, but we’ve already seen how its usage will become a permanent part of our firm going forward.

Like most businesses, we work with numerous providers ranging from office and hardware suppliers to IT support, sophisticated investment management and tax return programs. Each of these businesses faced disruptions as well due to the virus’s impact. Our management team and employees also did a great job in learning to work creatively with our different vendors.

How have you been engaging your clients during this time of crisis to maintain the relationship and trust? What specific range of actions have you taken?

In addition to the standard outreach mediums of emails and calls, we’ve been crafting hand-written notes to simply let our clients know we’re thinking about them and have arranged virtual meetings to follow up. Our client base is a diverse mix of individuals, institutions and businesses. We have close relationships with most every client and reaching out in a more personal way demonstrates our commitment to maintaining that partnership.

How do you make these interactions meaningful during a time of upheaval and stress?

We’ve made a concerted effort to stay informed on government legislation and programs available to help clients during this time. As we continue to work with our clients on a day-to-day basis, we have used our understanding of these new legislative acts and programs to identify additional ways we can create value for them.

To leverage our efficiency while still maintaining that personal touch and feel, we’ve used video conferencing and invited a limited number of client with an interest in the same topic to participate. This allowed us to not only relay pertinent information to our clients but also to walk them through general or tailored presentations to enhance their understanding of various topics that are most relevant to them personally. We’ve also used a software program to distribute personalized information by email to groups of clients.

It’s been an all hands on deck, collaborative process with compliance, IT support and administration teaming up with the frontline financial partners to help deliver these expanded services.

 What feedback have you been getting from your clients in response to your calls, emails and notes?

We’ve taken an active role in understanding new government legislation and helping our clients’ businesses stay afloat, so there has certainly been an appreciation for the information we’ve disseminated. But because these are mostly small businesses, the impact they’ve endured and our ability to assist them is magnified. As such, the feedback has been extremely positive. Most of the receipients of the handwritten notes responded with a thank you and commented that the gesture reinforced our relationship.

In what ways have you utilized your vendor network to adapt to the changes posed by COVID-19?

We sought and received vendor support for certain cost reductions that impacted clients directly. We also asked for and received added support from a number of vendors, such as training assistance on how to better use our technology products, enhancing our employees work experiences and new approached and strategies on marketing our services.

Have you been able to find ways to turn them into extended business partners so you can strategically and collectively work together in engaging clients?

We were in the middle of our annual employee review at the onset of the pandemic. We reached out to our payroll/HR partner to see if we could access solutions we had not used before from their technology suite. This led to them giving us access to a program that we can use for not only gathering employee feedback but also engaging with and gathering information from our clients.

We collaborated with other professionals in providing pro-bono information on the government business assistance programs to a wider group than just our clients, which has led to new business and ongoing opportunities.

 Do you have any recommendations for best practices to other wealth managers and boutique asset managers in dealing with a crisis like this?

Being an active resource for clients is probably the number one recommendation. There has been a lot of information that has come out over the last two months, i.e. new regulations, legislation, loans, emergency funding, etc. Instead of waiting for clients to contact us with questions, we’ve been proactive in identifying and anticipating what our clients will need and have either published that information on our website, hosted online seminars or contacted them directly with the information. We are constantly looking for ways to create value for our clients, and being an active resource is a great way to do just that.

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