Financial planners are used to customers calling them when stocks are on the downside — and they are skilled at giving soothing and thoughtful advice. But the coronavirus crisis brings layers of complexity and stress not evidenced by their calm demeanors.
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 need to figure out how to deliver that information as their own businesses are turned upside down because of the stay-at-home orders — all while coming up for a plan for their own families.
They 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.
“It’s more the human side of our business right now rather than the math,” Olson Pedersen said.
Matthew Tuttle, an adviser in an Edina office of Ameriprise, said his daily challenges are very similar to his clients’, so he, like his colleagues, can 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.”
Michelle Young, owner of Confetti Wealth, which is an Ameriprise practice, also feels the burden of making sure that the workday struggle for her employees is going OK — including the technology, resources and balance — and that their families are doing well.
Olson Pedersen has her staff of five working from home. They are tweaking communication strategies and workspaces while also educating themselves on tax and other financial implications of legislation passed to address the coronavirus crisis.
As a small-business owner, Olson Pedersen also is trying to address how those apply to her practice and how regular management tasks are done in this age.
For example, she has a new employee starting June 1 and doesn’t know if it will be an office or virtual introduction.
“I think we’ve educated [our clients] well so they are not having the anxiety that I think a lot of people are feeling who don’t have good planning behind them,” Olson Pedersen said.
“Our stressors really are more self-induced as [certified financial planners] right now,” she said, “because of all these new tax laws coming out right now practically on a week-to-week basis. It’s not just tax laws, it’s opportunities.”
The legislation has addressed business assistance but also has changed restrictions on minimum distributions for retirement accounts, and each change has its own deadlines and fine print.
There’s also extra stress in addressing clients’ vulnerability and anxiety in a crisis, said Martha Pomerantz, a portfolio manager and manager of the Minneapolis office of Evercore Wealth Management.
“This has been unusual in the speed that the market has declined and the unprecedented daily swings,” Pomerantz said in an e-mail.
“This is made worse by the fact that people are worried about their health and the well-being of those around them,” she said. “In my work with my clients over the years, I have learned that people have little tolerance for financial uncertainty when they are worried about their health.”
Ginger Ewing, a wealth adviser in Ameriprise’s Inver Grove Heights office, has resorted to reaching out to her clients en masse with summaries after big market swings.
“I recently hosted a 20-minute conference call for all clients and will do it again as needed,” she said.
Ameriprise advisers also are instituting a call campaign for 15- to 20-minute virtual meetings with each client because of the high volume of people reaching out to them.
“We haven’t tried such a process before, but so far, it’s going well,” Ewing said in an e-mail. “Now, I’m rarely getting calls between visits because clients know we are going to have our time to connect. We’ve been more efficient and effective that way.”
All the extra anxiety can add to her own stress, she said.
“I have to recognize when I’m stressed and do things in my control to fight it — eat well, sleep well, have quiet time, exercise, connect with family and clients, choose to be grateful,” she said in an e-mail. “A couple of my favorite ways to cope are to play music or board games, something that forces me to be present and not think about the demands put on me from day to day.”
That extra care from advisers does make a difference, though, said Doug Bechtold, a senior manager with a local software company who lives in Bloomington with his wife and two kids.
He is thankful that he started working with a Thrivent adviser eight or nine years ago to help with financial balance and planning for college.
The ongoing relationship makes him more comfortable with the phone, e-mail and Zoom instead of in-person meetings.
He usually speaks with the adviser four or five times a year, including during tax season and when his annual bonus comes, but has had more contact this spring, which he appreciates.
He said the extra effort has relieved his anxiety about the markets.
For Minneapolis-based Thrivent, the virtual call technology was already in place, but the company added more ways to connect.
“We’ve added the ability to text safely and appropriately from a regulatory standpoint with our members,” said Nikki Sorum, senior vice president of membership at Thrivent.
Thrivent also has stepped up its investment team’s commentary on the markets to help advisers, Sorum said. Usually, it’s quarterly.
“Because of the market volatility and turmoil, we’ve ramped that up very substantially,” she said. “In the last few weeks we’ve been doing daily updates and we’ve being making that available for our financial planners to make that available for their customers.”
Now that the crisis is a few months old, some advisers are finding that their clients are now shifting their focus from how to get through it in their own personal portfolios and budget management as they worried about their own security.
Now, some people are asking about how they can help others, Sorum said.
“We’ve been overwhelmed by how amazing our members are, in the last two weeks as of March 31. What we are seeing 45,000 Thrivent members have generated $12.5 million of support to 11,000 nonprofits or churches,” Sorum said.