Will your advice business survive COVID-19?
Everybody is extremely concerned – about our own health, the health of our loved ones, for many people their jobs are gone and also the economy is on the brink of a major downturn. Financial advisers face the double whammy of having clients who are concerned of course about the virus, and who are also extremely nervous about the volatility and downturn in investment markets.
I’ve tried to stand back a little from the noise and look at how a financial advice business might navigate its way through the next few months.
Be grateful for what you have
OK, let’s start with the glass half full. First of all, I hope you and your family are still healthy. This is your number one priority and if you can maintain this, you’ll survive anything…
Many businesses lost all of their customers as a result of COVID-19. Overnight. However, you still have your clients. Yes, they may not demand your services as much as before in the next few months, and indeed may not require financial solutions to be implemented for the foreseeable future. But they will still be your clients when all of this is over and definitely will need significant help in their changed financial circumstances.
Very importantly too is the profile of your income. Many of you in recent years have moved from an over-reliance on upfront commission to a flatter income profile, comprised mainly of trail and renewal commissions. This will stand you in good stead in the coming months. Yes, your trail has taken a hit in the last few weeks, but this will recover in line with markets, whenever that will be.
In truth, financial advice firms are better placed than most SME businesses to withstand the current economic tornado.
Look after your clients
Many of your clients though will be at their wit’s end and will need you now more than ever. Some will be sick and very worried. Some unfortunately may die. Many have lost their jobs or their businesses. All have seen their investments nosedive. Are you ready for this? How will you deal with them and their families compassionately and efficiently, but at a distance? This is where you need to identify phone and web conferencing platforms (such as Zoom, Skype, WebEx) to use. Now is not the time to go to ground and just blame COVID-19.
Instead now is the time to communicate relentlessly with your clients. Ring them, email them, send them regular updates about the financial backdrop. Show them you have your finger on the pulse and that you are in their corner. Get on the front foot and stay there.
Your advice, reassurance and interest in their affairs will be remembered long after all of this is over. Oh, and of course stop them from blowing up their plans by making rash, ill-thought out decisions.
Look after your business
Look after no 1, lots of people need you to stay healthy. Your family, your staff and your clients can ill-afford you to get sick. So, take no chances.
Then of course, you need to look after your staff and help them to stay healthy. Most are now working remotely, so make this as easy as possible for them. Be flexible, understand the pressures they may be under at home and trust them. For someone who is used to seeing their staff before their eyes every day, it’s a big change to suddenly have them working away from you. However, you have a common goal – the survival of your business.
Get advice on technology solutions. Talk to your IT supplier and talk to other advisers. You are a fantastic community for sharing ideas and best practices. If technology is not your forte, talk to someone who is strong in this area. Everyone will try to help everyone in getting through this. Communicate regularly with your staff. Agree a regular call – this might be every day or every second day and use web conferencing for team meetings. Keep the team together, just at a distance – your staff still need your direction. Make sure you can work effectively yourself away from the office. If you have an office at home – great. If not, carve out a space other than the kitchen table as you need to be able to work effectively for the next few months.
The key is to stay in touch with people and to stay visible. Your family, staff and clients need to know that you are at the top of your game now, more so than ever.
We’re in the same boat here at StepChange. We are going to get through this. If I can help you in any way or indeed if you just want to bounce ideas or challenges off someone, I’ll be delighted to help.