From hurricanes to wildfires and more, 2017 brought calamitous weather and major events that forever changed many communities and industries across the country. Many financial advisors found their offices inaccessible for reasons beyond their control — but their duties to clients hadn’t changed. This reality in times of crisis is forcing advisors to take a hard look at their businesses and seriously consider whether they are adequately prepared to serve their clients at all times.
We spoke with a variety of advisors in areas affected by the extreme weather and disasters that occurred in 2017, and their experiences confirmed that the value of preparation and communication cannot be overstated. Clarifying communication processes, protecting against potential breakdowns in emergency procedures, and regularly testing your firm’s preparedness can make all the difference in ensuring you are still able to assist clients even in adverse circumstances.
1. Formalize a Broad Disaster Plan
It’s vital that everyone in your office understands what to do when business as usual is jeopardized by an unforeseen event. To be prepared, you should develop a simple plan that ensures you can support your clients in the event of a disaster. It should be a plan that your staff can access after hours or refer to at home. At the very least, your plan should provide answers to the following questions:
- How will staff reach one another to disseminate instructions in the event of an emergency?
- Will the key vendors you rely on have alternative ways to reach you aside from your main office phone line?
- Does everyone have contact information for emergency services such as police, fire, and building management?
- Where can staff plan to meet in order to continue operations and serve clients, such as an affiliated office in another city?
By clarifying the answers to these questions in advance, you bring your business a major step closer to full disaster preparedness.
2. Consider All Links in the Chain
Creating a clear, buttoned-up plan is a necessary foundation, but also thinking ahead to possible points of failure in that plan will further strengthen your ability to withstand an emergency. We’ve seen vulnerabilities crop up when even a single staff member is unavailable. During a major weather event, for example, if only one person in your firm knows how to log in remotely or only one person knows how to operate your Customer Relationship Management system (CRM), you are vulnerable. Identifying and eliminating points of failure through cross-training or documenting procedures is important. Also, firms with a well-established chain of command may find their entire network of communication weakened if just one high-level member is inaccessible. To prepare for eventualities like these, we encourage advisors to create multiple options for passing on instructions if the primary one fails.