When Janet Schaefer’s father died, the former health care administrator jumped in to help her elderly mother wade through mounds of paperwork. Where were the life insurance policies? Military service record? Account information necessary to cancel credit cards? “If anybody could find out this information, it was me. I’d worked in the field,” says Schaefer. “But it was frustrating, exasperating — and it definitely colors what I do today.”
Who: Janet Schaefer, Life Event Services Manager, Wachovia Securities, Richmond, Va.
Sound Bite: “When our financial advisors ask us questions, it’s about themselves and their families as well as their clients. If it’s on your mind, it’s on your client’s mind, too….This isn’t just stuff, it’s real life.”
Over the last 18 months, Schaefer has developed a leading-edge department at Wachovia Securities that provides up-to-the-minute information to financial advisors on topics not traditionally associated with a client’s portfolio: Social Security, Medicare, elder care, heath insurance, home safety, fraud protection, identity theft, adoption, divorce and long-term care, among them.
“Financial advisors were telling the firm this wasn’t exactly a portfolio issue, but it might impact the portfolio. They kept getting questions challenging the advising process,” says the 53-year-old Schaefer, Wachovia’s first-ever Life Event Services Manager. “Their message: We need a resource.”
Today, Schaefer and a staff of five — a tax expert, an estate-planning attorney, two certified financial planners and a website specialist — provide direct support to Wachovia’s advisors through phone consultations, webinars and compliance-approved documents on everything from taxes to family disaster plans.
Schaefer’s unit has clearly hit a nerve. Between March and December, there were 154,000 downloads of Life Event Services documents and over 35,700 hits on the group’s internal home page.
Branch manager Marcia Tillotson, who oversees 22 advisors in Charlotte, N.C., calls the home office effort “huge.”
As she puts it: “A lot of financial advisors have built our own libraries — basically a file drawer with folders labeled ‘tax reform,’ ‘long-term care,’ ‘Social Security.’ The problem is we were reinventing the wheel every day because the second you put an article in, it was outdated. We did it anyway because it was our best way to get information. But none of it was compliance-approved to send to a client.”
Now, Tillotson says, “It’s client-approved, we get to print it off in color and we can put our name on it? It’s been huge. I use it as reference material and as a way to reach out and touch clients.” Best yet, she adds, “We don’t need that file drawer anymore.”