Estate planners are among the luckiest of professionals forced to work in physical isolation by the global coronavirus outbreak.
Meetings with clients and colleagues can be conducted by videoconferencing or simple phone call, and nearly all business processes are digitally fulfilled. Yet many of our colleagues are reporting difficulties, often arising in unanticipated ways.
Trusts & Estates, a journal for wealth management professionals, polled its audience to see how we’re faring. One finding was disturbing: only half of respondents said their continuity plan was adequate to the challenge posed by the coronavirus outbreak. Fortunately, we’re a hardy and adaptable lot: 69% said the shift to working from home was accomplished without undue strain or disorganization.
Technical problems have complicated matters: for example, our team in New York has experienced loss of internet signal, power cuts and difficulties reaching the IT crew for solutions. None of this has caused major disruptions, and we’ve found our clients understanding – they’re in the same boat, as well.
Video meetings work well, but real face time is still vital and the lack of opportunities to share lunch with clients is an oft-mentioned grievance. Social media jokes about marital strain, children making off with your tablet and the dog eating the spreadsheets aside, mixing family and business in the same locale can be daunting. If finding a moment’s peace in the office is tough, wait until you try working from your living room.
Some of our team live alone and have mentioned the calm, quiet atmosphere. On the other hand, loneliness can creep in, even among the tough buccaneers manning our ship. There’s such a thing as too quiet, and it seems we’ve grown accustomed to one another’s faces.
If there’s a lighter note to sound, it’s that some business lines have been ticking upwards. The value of a solid will is now clear to even the stubbornest optimists among our clientele. And based on Trusts & Estates’ survey, 42% of estate planners say that more clients than usual are calling to adjust healthcare-related records.
In keeping with best practice to avoid spreading the disease, social distancing among planners is in near full force: 84% of meetings are being held via phone or e-channel. Troubles have arisen in states where online notarization isn’t allowed, though the problem has been eased in some cases via executive order from the governor. We hope legislators in laggardly states will take note and adjust their laws to account for this 21st century reality.
Unfortunately, many practices have been forced to trim headcount. Nearly 25% report reductions in support staff, perhaps the most vulnerable employees. Professionals have not escaped the axe, though: 11% of firms report laying off lawyers, advisors and other top-level staff. Some 43% of companies say they’re asking workers to consider sabbatical, a shift to part-time work, or taking long-term leave. Times are tough all over.
In a crisis, accurate information is prized. Clients are worried about the stifled economy, though the virus itself remains the primary concern. For now, they seem ready to take it on the chin, if that’s what it takes to defeat the disease. Estate planners should reach out to clients with informed advice in order to ease unnecessary anxiety and block precipitate actions.
Based on the poll results, an encouraging 63% of practices say they’ve broadened their online access to clients. Web-based events, chat sessions, video presentations, special emailings and other steady doses of fresh content have kept the channels open with clients. Today’s innovation, we believe, may well become the new normal once the viral threat diminishes.
For more information, please read:
How Estate Planners Are Adapting to Working During a Pandemic | Wealth Management