The coronavirus crisis has shaken many Americans’ routines, with unexpected health emergencies, lost or reduced wages and government-mandated lockdowns keeping most people at home.?
For some, the crisis might have derailed upcoming retirements. For others, it could be a push toward financial independence, so that they never have to feel afraid of market downturns and disappearing incomes again. In many instances, having a professional could help guide individuals in creating a solid financial plan that takes into account good and bad surprises and accomplishes long-term goals.?
The problem: With nationwide social distancing requirements, to find and meet face-to-face with a financial adviser can be difficult right now, even at a time when getting help with money may be crucial.?
Many financial advisers have moved to digital platforms to meet with new clients, and if the advisers and clients decide they make a good professional match, there are secure services to gather information and documents, said Mark Beaver, a partner and senior financial adviser at Keeler & Nadler. “It may not be as good as meeting face-to-face, but I think people are surprised at how well it works.” Digital tools allow advisers to stay in touch with their clients, and in the midst of this pandemic, create fresh financial plans with new clients.?
So many Americans are relying on technology these days to communicate with colleagues, families and friends for work, birthdays and weddings, said Rob Greenman, lead adviser and partner of Vista Capital Partners. Finding and working with a financial adviser is no different. “There’s one thing most of us have an abundance of these days — and it’s time,” he said. “So there is arguably no better time than now to put in the work and find your fit and establish a long-term relationship with a solid financial adviser.”?
Individuals can find financial advisers in myriad ways: asking family and friends for recommendations, LinkedIn searches as well as professional networks available at the Financial Planning Association, National Association of Personal Financial Advisors and Garrett Planning Network.?
Even during a crisis, individuals should do their research and vet potential financial advisers, said Alexander Koury, wealth management adviser at Hosler Wealth Management. There are various types of advisers, some of whom have specific niches — like retirement, women-focused interests or teachers. Background on these professionals is available on the Securities & Exchange Commission’s site and Finra’s site, including previous career moves and client complaints. Koury suggests meeting with a few financial advisers individually with a videochatting service, such as Zoom or Skype, for 15 minutes to ask questions about their credentials, their businesses and how they may best serve you. “Treat the process like you are the boss and you are interviewing people to hire,” he said.?
Prospective clients should also ask advisers how they would work with clients on an ongoing basis and how they’re paid, said Eric Walters, managing partner and founder of SilverCrest Wealth Planning. “Consumers should look for an adviser who provides a plan for retirement, a plan for investing, a review of their insurance needs, a review of their estate planning and a review of their tax planning,” he said. “Those are the key areas of planning that everyone would benefit from receiving.”?
Shifting to virtual meetings and all-digital services can be challenging for financial advisers and clients, but there’s a subsect of the industry that relies solely on virtual meetings to support their clients — especially among emerging professionals.
“An adviser’s ability to engage clients virtually should be a test in itself,” said Charlie Rocco, president and chief executive officer of Rocco and Associates. “So much of every adviser’s day-to-day has shifted from the yellow legal pad onto the computer that every prospective client should be asking about and assessing an adviser’s skill with technology.” People want to know that they’re okay financially and that they’re not missing anything in their plans, he said — having screen-sharing sessions using financial planning software, and walking individuals through the ups and downs of their portfolios, is much better than a simple email, he added.?
There’s so much uncertainty right now, about when the economy will reopen, how people will financially manage in the coming weeks if they’ve lost a job or suffered reduced earnings and even if there will be another wave of coronavirus cases later this year.
Still, money problems won’t be resolved immediately, even if someone begins working with a financial adviser right now. During this crisis, the key is to create a financial plan first and then an investment portfolio that fits into that plan, said David Shotwell, a financial adviser and president of Shotwell Rutter Baer. “This is true in any market,” he said. “The difference right now is that fitting the portfolio to the plan may take more patience and time.”?
Having a plan can also help in the face of the next market downturn — or financial crisis. Some people are still entering retirement during this pandemic, because they followed their financial plan. ?
Someone with an equities-heavy portfolio prior to this year will need to wait to see their investments recover, and changes to investments may need to happen gradually over the coming months instead of in one session. “I’d also caution people against assuming that an adviser is going to ‘fix’ the problem of a bear market,” he said. “They can help the client understand the situation and view it with a long-term approach, but ups and downs are inevitable.”???
Not everyone can afford to work with a financial adviser, even if they need one now more than ever. There are advisers who offer pro bono work through non-profit organizations, and they’ll pour over details and highlight red flags for families to review and fix. There are also numerous outlets that offer general financial advice, though people should proceed with caution before following it. ?
Of course, having a plan to follow is best during “normal” or good times, but not everyone thinks about or prioritizes working with a financial crisis.?
“I have very many clients who came to me during or immediately after the 2008-09 financial crisis, and still work with our firm,” said Nate Wenner, principal and a senior financial adviser at Wipfli Financial Advisors.“This is naturally a time when getting objective and professional advice pays off.”?