When I sent out a few words of encouragement last week, I also invited advisors to send me some of the messages they were sending out to their clients during this period of deep uncertainty.
I’ve been busy writing articles for my Client Articles subscribers (WAY more than I’ve written during more normal times), but here I want to share some of the thoughts, insights and prayers that I’ve received from other advisors. The idea is that we can pool our best thinking, and best words, and everybody’s client communications might improve.
Craig Martin, of the Family Wealth Consulting Group in San Jose, CA, sent this message, which I thought was very good:
You may be feeling quite disoriented, fearful and anxious as our “normal” has been shaken. With stock indexes experiencing daily swings in dramatic fashion, I wanted to reach out to share my perspective.
The coronavirus has impacted the global economy unlike anything we’ve seen in the past. The uncertainty of its length and breadth is what is adding to the unusual volatility financial markets are experiencing. Stock markets are in bear market territory. If you own bonds or bond funds, they have served as a ballast to cushion the fall.
No one really knows if we are at the beginning, middle or end of the crisis. From all the measures taken by organizations and governments around the world to stop the spread of the virus bringing economic activity to a standstill, I would expect to see a recession in the coming weeks and months. We don’t know how severe or mild the impact will be.
Once the virus is under control, we should see a pickup in demand and markets should recover. Until then, we’ll need to weather the volatility as best we can. Governments are already putting together stimulus plans to help those most affected by disruptions to daily living.
We’ve been through bear markets in the past and inevitably will again. Since 1926, the average bear market lasted 22 months while the longest bull market lasted 9 years. Bull markets follow bear markets and much of the recovery has come in the front end of the bull market.
In this very challenging and uncertain environment, I recommend we hold steady. Tune out the noise, focus on your long-term goals and let the benefits of diversification play out.
I would strongly urge you to contact me if you plan to withdraw funds from any of your accounts in the next six months so we can plan to liquidate those assets with the least amount of adverse impact.
I am grateful for the trust you’ve placed in me to manage your wealth and to advocate for your financial wellness. Above all else, stay rational, follow the CDC guidelines closely, and do what is necessary to stay safe and healthy!
Mark Newfield, of Newfield Financial Solutions, took a similar tack:
This past week has been a shock. For me, the biggest indicator is the grocery store, where you can hardly find a can of soup. When I went shopping last, you couldn’t even buy an onion. This is panic. It’s not like we have food shortages in this country. Clearly, we have panicked people hoarding, and not just food. They are hoarding cash, too.
Collectively, in the markets, we have panicked people selling just about everything. We have panicked people worrying about bank runs.
Seeing the market drop, the way we have since mid-February – the rapidity of it – that is what most people find frightening. I believe this is the root of the panic.
Here’s the good news, such as you may find it. The great majority of the time, future performance has been positive.
When will the drop end? No way to tell. I’ll speculate and say that the drop will stop when US cases of Coronavirus start to level off.
Are we certain there will be a “Corona” recession? My personal opinion is yes, and that it will be relatively short but reasonably severe. Those businesses and families who do not have 3-6 months of cash reserves may experience trouble. Some businesses will disappear. Some families will file for bankruptcy. Some of them may be your friends and family. These will also be shocks.
Will we recover from this? Again, no one knows the answer. My belief? Yes, we will. From a certain perspective, events like this thin the forest much the way a forest fire does, resulting in a healthy environment with space for growth.
If we believe that we will recover, and that the forest has been thinned out, then we must equally believe that valuations will grow and that markets will return and grow. I certainly believe that. So we recommend that you follow your plan. Continue to invest if you can be comfortable doing so. Rely on your cash reserves – this kind of unpredictable event is exactly why we recommend and why you have cash reserves.
Panic? Sure. We (this includes me – as you can tell from these last two weeks, I cure it by writing) all feel it. Our advice is to respond, rather than react. Recognize your panic, but do not act on it. Act on your long-term beliefs.
Cameron Thornton, of Cameron Thornton Associates in Burbank, CA, offered the following message, which I’ve excerpted:
This time is different…how many times have you heard these words before? The global coronavirus pandemic and resulting market slump seems like an entirely new challenge for each of us. The past week upended normal home, work and school life for many of us. Stock markets plunged, then rallied, and many businesses are now hurting as the number of cases of the coronavirus increases globally and has begun reaching into every corner of the U.S. economy.
But is it really all that different from the major challenges we have faced together over the years? Please pause for a moment and ponder my question. And now, please click on the following link and watch this YouTube video by Andy Andrews: Coronavirus Perspective – Andy is an author and inspirational speaker.
So, what do you think? In my case, Andy has helped reaffirm my core beliefs in America. I believe that history has a way of repeating itself; the problem is we don’t always understand when history is being written! But perhaps, this time we do.
Yesterday morning we had a team conference call. We discussed and confirmed our commitment to each of you. Each of us pledged to continue to be here to serve you and your family. We each agreed to strive to provide you with an even higher level of service that you have come to expect from us. Among several philosophies we teach, we preach discipline and focusing on things that you and we can control. We practice these philosophies in our own daily life. Internally, we have decided to practice “social distancing” in all of our interactions. As the WSJ pointed out on Friday, March 13, 2020, this means “helping minimize the transmission of an infectious virus for which no personal immunity exists by minimizing the chance that any one carrier will pass it on to others.” We have implemented staggered work schedules and work locations to accommodate the ongoing need of our team and each and every one of you.
The following are links to organizations that are experts on the Coronavirus
World Health Organization (WHO) – https://www.who.int/
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) – https://www.cdc.gov/
These are the moments smart investors are supposed to prepare for, to be ready to snap up bargains from others desperate to flee the market at any price. Investors with the strength of will to ignore the volatility need only find assets where they are confident that there is little risk of permanent loss to make money in the long run.
He also sent out this message, which I’m sure his clients appreciated:
Last week, we did as we have always done over the past 38 years, as life unfolded for each of us.
We received and returned phone calls. We proactively emailed, and for those few clients without email capability, we mailed via the USPS important client communication to them.
We also had client meetings in our office and held scheduled conference calls. We helped proud Grandparents establish a College Savings Plan for their one-month old granddaughter. We discussed and recommended that a client update his estate planning documents. We helped a couple link a bank account to one of their new investments so it would be easier to add money into their account. We updated a current year income tax plan. We talked to a client before hip-replacement surgery and followed up with her after the procedure was completed. We helped a widow determine the best approach so she can purchase a new home, and we then communicated directly with her loan broker.
To top it off, we also made time to help within our community by providing some much-needed volunteer work with a major non-profit organization we support.
In these coming days my advice is clear: Please don’t panic. Be smart. Understand the risks and take the necessary precautions. What we are faced with is not a financial crisis but rather a health crisis which tends to be much shorter in duration (typically several months). Banks are in the strongest capital positions ever and strong banks with the ability to lend are obviously important to the sustainability and health of the economy.
Finally, join me in ongoing prayer to a sovereign God who has a purpose for each and every one of us. Yes, the COVID-19 is new and its economic effect is almost entirely negative. But still, I firmly believe this time is not different and we will get through this together. Please call us if you feel you need to talk about anything. We are here and willing to help however we can.
Lisa Kirchenbauer of Omega Wealth Management in Arlington, VA, wrote to her clients an exceptional message:
As I send this message to you from my new home office, I am struck by the uncertain times we are living in. As a global community, we have never experienced anything quite like it. As we finish this week’s trading, the comparisons with the 2008-09 Great Recession continue, and yet…this is not like 2008. In 2008, there were businesses failing and people laid off, but you could still go to a movie or a restaurant if you had the means. Today, our lives have been disrupted in ways that go way beyond the financial changes we are starting to feel, and that’s what continues to make these times so unnerving.
After a number of years of outperforming the international markets, we are down similar amounts whether you are invested in the U.S. or elsewhere. Bond investments are offering some balance but also are at least slightly down for the year.
I suggest that for your mental health, you skip looking at your accounts or statements, as they come out in the next few weeks. Unless you sell, these are paper losses.
Having been through many volatile markets over my 35 year career in financial services, including as a trader on a trading desk in 1987, I remain confident that the markets will recover. That said, it is too early to guess when and how quickly that will happen.
In the meantime, sitting still, doing nothing, not selling can seem “stupid.” Here at Omega, we won’t call doing something—like selling—stupid, just unfortunate. Unfortunate because then you have locked in your losses, and then the next hardest task lies ahead… deciding when to get back in. The time to get back in, like March 9, 2009 will not feel right. And yet we know that if you miss the bottom, even by a few weeks or months, you can miss the quickest part of the recovery.
So, what can you do, besides social distancing and vigorous handwashing?
- Go ahead and get your tax filing stuff in order, but cut your tax preparer a break since they are in the same situation as you.
- Take some time to review your budget and perhaps now that you are spending less, trim the excess out for now.
- Cancel the housecleaning or childcare for now (if you can, so as to avoid bringing in new germs) BUT pay them anyway- they probably need the money much more than you do.
- Call your family and close friends to check on them.
- Consider picking up meditation to lower your stress and learn the concepts that Buddhists follow- detachment and impermanence- valuable skills in today’s unsettled world. (Omega recommends the app Headspace)
We are sorry that you have to go through this time of uncertainty and upheaval. Please know that we are your “thinking partner”, your resource, your guide holding the lamp to light the way forward.
We have tried to create portfolios for you, our clients, that can support you and weather these kinds of down markets. We welcome you to reach out to talk with us about your strategy and what options we have should you need cash over the next year. We have taken a number of calls over the last two weeks and are happy to make time to address your individual questions and concerns.
Stay well and thank you for the opportunity to be of service to you.
Finally, Gale Crosley, of the Crosley & Company consulting company, offers some advice for YOU. I’ll simply reprint it here, because I think it stands on its own merits:
As I stood in the shower one morning earlier this week the words, “This feels like war” came to mind. Not that I’ve been in one. But I’m experienced enough to recognize the panic, uncertainty and vulnerability. Moments later, with coffee in hand in front of the TV, I listened as New York Governor Andrew Cuomo stated, “This is a war. We have to treat it like a war.”
War, according to military wisdom, requires an approach that is both tactical and strategic. This article focuses on tactics—preparing yourself and marshaling your troops for success on a new kind of battlefield. One with toys underfoot and a dog howling in the background.
Talking to a number of firm leaders in recent days, my sense is that we are getting our ducks in a row with the mechanics of remote work and collaboration. Among concerns coming from these conversations, however, is an anticipated drop in productivity. This came home to me when our daughter’s millennial boyfriend observed, “Well, nobody will know if I have a beer at 4 p.m.!” Point well taken; we need to prepare.
I’ve come up with two sets of productivity practice tips, one for managing partners and the second for all team members.
If Your Team is Working from Home
Optimal productivity will result from both left-brain and right-brain approaches. Most of us are left-brained, so linear actions are easier, and many are already in place. Examples are implementing technology and establishing tracking and work-flow systems. Other tips for MPs:
- Modify your pipeline process. Your pipeline is your lifeline. Amend the process to include not only active opportunities, but a separate category for clients at risk. Take an extra 30-minutes (or longer depending on at-risk status and other factors). This will keep you connected around the critical goal of sustaining revenue.
- Keep the Research Calls going. Now more than ever, Research Calls are the single best way to learn about the issues facing your clients, and those impacting the market. Over time this will translate to consulting revenue. Instead of in-person, use Zoom or other platforms for the calls.
- On the right-brain side, it’s all about keeping people uplifted. I recommend a regular cadence of Community Circles, Zoom meet-ups of 4-7 people. This is a powerful way to keep your people energized, and help them retain their self-identity as valuable members of a team. It’s also a good forum for sharing experiences, tips and best practices. Identify circle leaders who will schedule and manage these sessions. The circle members can choose time and format. Get creative!
If You’re Working from Home
Share these tips with your team. While some may have experience working remotely for extended periods of time, many will not.
- Create an office space that is uniquely yours. Communicate in your own style to family members of all ages when you’re working and shouldn’t be interrupted.
- Get dressed! Continue to suit up for the game, whatever your “suit.” Dressing for the day helps you get in the zone mentally. A football player doesn’t go out on the field in sweatpants and a tee-shirt, right?
- Stick to a schedule. Until you can trust yourself, impose a schedule that will help you stay productive and organized and avoid the countless distractions. Think of it as at-home training wheels.
- Go easy on yourself. It can take time to get used to a new, remote identity and workstyle. After years in a professional office, working from home can leave you feeling isolated and dislocated. I know because I’ve been there. But over time you’ll realize that it’s the same you, just in a different setting—one with a washing machine and a refrigerator nearby.
Craig Carnick, of Transform Wealth in Colorado Springs, CO, offers this last piece of advice to his peers:
Advisors should start to reach out and call their clients personally. Right now. Start calling your clients. Don’t call before 9am or after 8pm. Don’t be afraid…. Call your clients. Tell them….
… we’re still in business
… we’re working from home to stay safe and healthy
… we feel good and we’re not hiding under our beds
Then shut up and let your clients talk to you. Let them vent. Let them talk about their fears.
You won’t have the answers. But like talking to a child, a spouse or a friend in difficult situations like this, half the battle is letting the other person vocalize their fears. Just listen and you’ll be two-thirds of the way home. Your clients will never forget that in a very bad time, YOU CALLED THEM.
I want to add that my own goal during this crisis is to behave and act in a way that will make me proud of myself when all of this is over. This may not be easy because I have a tendency to be very hard on myself, but I have hope…