By Sarah Cain, Vice President, Coaching & Consulting, and Tammy Breitenbach, Executive Business Coach, and Jessica Harrington, Executive Business Coach
“Business as usual” is no longer a viable option as the coronavirus continues to spread. Businesses have adapted and are encouraging employees to work from home. Professional and collegiate leagues have cancelled entire sports seasons. Schools and universities are moving the remainder of their classes online. People are taking serious precautions to limit the impact of COVID-19.
But advisors can’t cancel or postpone the responsibilities they have to both their clients and employees. The coronavirus outbreak has caused the most rapid bear market in U.S. history. Of course, advisors have never had control over the markets, but during periods of extreme market volatility you need to control the next best thing – how you conduct business in response.
Clients have different reactions to market volatility, but many are likely cautious, confused and quick to pull out of the market. But when you react to volatility with a steady hand, you instill a sense of confidence in your clients.
You can’t predict when a big market event will occur, so it’s good to have a solid infrastructure in place for tumultuous times. You don’t want to be scrambling to keep clients informed and your firm running while the market is volatile. Here’s the pieces you need in place to help navigate whatever the market throws at you.
No matter what the market is doing, you need to be able to execute trades like normal, but with the added pressure of time and quantity. Your investment process may require major changes at certain trigger points, or multiple clients might want to make changes at the same time, and you want to make sure your team and technology have the bandwidth to handle their requests.
Use model portfolios for client accounts
You don’t have time to make adjustments portfolio by portfolio, one at a time, when the market is rapidly moving. Using model portfolios lets you make quick and effective trades for your clients. It also helps you keep on top of what’s happening in your client accounts – tracking six to eight models is very different than tracking 2,000+ individual accounts.
Have the right trading software in place
If you’re trying to go into the custodians’ platform and make trades individually, that’s not going to work when markets move quickly. You need to have trading software that allows you to trade across accounts and upload to the custodian. Finally, as a backup plan, make sure you have an updated list of your custodians’ contact information.
Set up documented trading process/cross training
You want this regardless of market volatility, in case other circumstances present similar conditions – say your trader is sick or otherwise incapaciated. But especially in a time of market uncertainty, you can’t delay client trading requests. A documented trading process, and cross training other employees in the process, helps solve the issue.
Establish investment committee and associated procedures
I recommend establishing an investment committee to all advisors. When you’re running model portfolios, a dedicated group can help decide what changes to make and the reasons why and document it for compliance purposes.
While the components of your communication plan depend on what’s happening in the market, it should include email communication, phone calls, a blog post or article on your website and social media posts. A video and webinar are also recommended.
Designate a writer
Whether it’s someone on your team or someone you outsource to, designating who will be writing a majority of your client communications ahead of time is important. You’ll need to send out emails, post on social media and update your website in a timely manner. These need to be written in a clear and informative manner and in a consistent, measured voice.
Many advisory firms don’t have the bandwidth to create all the client communication pieces from scratch at a moment’s notice – you’re busy actively meeting with clients.
Creating templates in advance – either by someone on your team or outsourcing – accelerates the communication process. The designated writer can more easily plug in appropriate information into a template. You’re not scrambling to figure out what to say from scratch as the event is happening.
At the minimum, you’ll need templates for communication (email and social media), presentations and videos.
Set up communication technology
Conference calls are a great way to quickly distribute a lot of information to all your clients. Webinars allow you to package information in a visual presentation and can be repurposed as a replay. Webinars are a more educational approach than a call, but both formats serve a purpose in informing clients.
And when periods of extreme market volatility hit, you will likely have many concerned clients contacting you. Rather than overwhelm your team, advisors should have an online scheduling system. Clients can view your calendar and select a time with less hassle and no chance of double booking you.
For this reason, it’s important that your calendar is updated and, like your mass email system, is integrated with your CRM.
Even with all these templates and systems in place, you should still call a team meeting as soon as the market event happens. Educate and get everyone on the same page when it comes to messaging and what to tell clients.
The overall message you want to provide clients during any uncertain event is to educate them on what’s going on, what you, as their advisor, are doing about it and what they, as a client, need to be doing about it.
Website and Marketing
Your digital presence is key to your success as an advisor. Great SEO and a user-friendly website go a long way in engaging prospects. They also serve an important role as your homebase for clients. They go to your website to learn how to contact you, to read your blog, learn about your services and more. And during a volatile market event, they might check your website before calling you.
You need to be able to update your site quickly with content like blogs and pop-ups regarding your stance on the event and any business changes that come from it. You need either someone on your team who’s familiar with your website and can make updates or outsource your web needs to a pre-designated third party. If you do choose to outsource your web needs, make sure they have a quick turnaround time.
Streamline social media
This is another platform clients are likely to visit for more information. You need to post the content you created on your Facebook, Twitter, Youtube profiles etc. in a timely manner. Consider investing in a social media management and marketing platform like Hootsuite. This will help streamline your social media efforts as you can post to multiple channels at once through it.
Prospect marketing system
Not only is a volatile time an opportunity to showcase your value to clients, but it’s also a great time to demonstrate your potential value to prospects. Drip and lead campaigns are your bread and butter for prospect marketing.
For a drip campaign, plan out their journey so you know what it’ll look like. You’ll need an email system that coordinates with your CRM and has scheduled sending capabilities. Decide what lead magnet to offer.
For lead campaigns, decide what system to use to generate new leads – social media, paid search, prospecting events, etc. Take advantage of the volatility to grow your client base.
You want your technology to be seen but not heard. In other words, you want your technology to be there, do what it needs to do and not cause any problems.
This is especially true when the market is volatile. Clients and prospects could flood your website. You need integrated systems to send mass emails, schedule client meetings and handle trading requests – and a team who can handle IT support.
Integrate your systems
All your systems should integrate – you need those incredible reporting capabilities. Does your CRM and reporting and trading system integrate? If you need to quickly run a report, can you send an email or make calls to clients who have a specific security, invested in a certain model or have dropped by more than 10%? This is only possible if you have strong technology with strong integration.
Access to systems
I have a coaching client who was on vacation when the coronavirus outbreak hit the United State and the market started to react. For any advisor, that was – and continues to be – a busy time. This advisor was an ocean away from his office, but because he had technology systems in place, he could carry on business and talk with clients.
It’s critical to have an IT team who can respond quickly and to have remote/cloud-based access to critical systems like your CRM, trading, email and website. You never know when market volatility will happen and where you’ll be when it does.
You also want the capability to work from home in the event of a pandemic like the coronavirus. Trading personnel and your team need to be able to take home essential equipment to do their jobs – monitors, chargers, etc.
Moving toward a paperless office will help in this regard, whether that’s manual notes, new account paperwork, items needed for signature, etc. Having the technology to support going digital provides you to carry on business from wherever you are.
Make sure there’s backup access to your technology, too. In case someone can’t get in or is ill, someone can still jump in to do their job from a technology standpoint.
We’ve already covered how important timely client communication is during market volatility. In order to respond quickly and share messages, you need a fast-acting compliance team. An efficient compliance response time should be hours, not two weeks, in times of crisis.
Your team is also part of a successful infrastructure. Keeping them informed, happy and healthy is important as their time and mental capacity might be stretched during a big market event.
Designate a project manager
You’ll likely be on the phone with clients, holding video conferences, emailing, etc. You need someone on your team who can serve as a project manager to coordinate the things you might not have time for but are important to your work – working with outside vendors, moving things through compliance, getting approval on content, etc.
It might be nice to have a virtual assistant ready as a backup plan. They can serve as a resource if needed.
Keep your team updated
It’s also a good idea to hold a daily team huddle, whether you’re still working in the office or working remotely. Employees can use this time to talk through issues they’ve had with clients, and you can update them on anything pertinent.
Protect your employees’ wellbeing
If the market volatility event is one where employees are still able to work in the office, allow them to work efficiently by catering meals. Bringing in lunch even just one day could give them 30 minutes or more of time back in their day to recharge.
While you and your employees are taking care of clients during tumultuous times, your employees are also worried about their own financial security. They’re taking on extra stress and dealing with more client emotions and uncertainty than before. This can become a heavy burden to bear, so having benefits set up like an employee assistance program can be critical to helping your team feel happy and secure.
Hire the right people
During stressful or uncertain times, you want an adaptable and hardworking team. They might need to work from home. They might need to take on extra responsibilities. They might need to cover for sick colleagues.
An adaptable team isn’t built overnight – it starts by hiring the right people. Focus on finding qualities like cooperative, collaborative and having the willingness to cross-train.
If advisors neglect the operations and finance side of their business during market volatility, it can become one of their biggest stressors.
Build up cash reserve
Some companies and employees were faced with pay cuts or layoffs during the 2008 financial crisis. Some advisors can’t afford a down quarter without getting a loan to cover payroll. And laying people off isn’t desirable for either party – they need the income, and you and your clients need the support. If you cut pay or benefits, your team is likely to jump ship as soon as they have a better offer – and talented team members WILL have better offers, even in down markets.
Cutting payroll costs during a volatile market when you’re likely busier than usual and working extra hours is the last thing you want to do. Start building up your cash reserves or have a line of credit at the bank to rely on during dire situations.
Look to grow
A volatile market could hold promise for advisors who want to grow their business through acquisition. Some advisors might dip out and retire early during uncertain times. Having access to financing like a cash reserve or line of credit can be helpful in case an opportunity arises.
Leadership and support
You can feel lonely as a leader. During uncertain times, your team and clients look to you for answers and guidance. But you don’t know what’s going to happen. You’re stressed and worried, too. You just can’t vocalize it.
Make sure you have a network of support set up to help guide you through market volatility.
A dedicated coach can help you organize your thoughts and provide support when the market is volatile. But more importantly, they can help you prepare for potential market hiccups in the future by building the infrastructure we outlined.
Carson coaching member and partner offices received resources quickly to use to communicate with clients during this market downturn caused by the coronavirus. And the Carson team has continued to provide our partners with blogs, webinars, social media posts, emails, templates during this tumultuous time.
Have you been able to service your clients’ needs during this market volatility? Do you have the systems and infrastructure in place if something like this happens again? Don’t wait for the next crisis – schedule a consultation with Carson today to find out if coaching or partnership can help you optimize your firm and prepare it for whatever the market brings.