Carla Wigen “We’re all trying to be flexible and do what we can to keep our people safe and comfortable,” Carla Wigen of Laird Norton Wealth Management says.

Advisors with offices in the novel coronavirus epicenters of New Rochelle, New York, and Seattle, Washington, have been helping to ease the minds of concerned clients while managing to deal with the current crisis in much the same way that many other American businesses are dealing with the situation: by shifting to more remote work, according to advisors ThinkAdvisor polled in both cities.

“We’re taking the recommended precautions, but we are not closed for business,” said Joseph L. Soricelli, an advisor who is CEO of Aging Issues Management in New Rochelle and senior pension consultant at affiliated Flynn Financial (F2) Partners at the same address.

As part of a “contingency plan” that was set up, more work is being done remotely by the people he works with at both firms, he pointed out. He was working remotely from home Friday, when ThinkAdvisor spoke to him, “but historically on Friday I do work remotely” anyway, he noted.

Soricelli noted that he is located “outside the containment zone” that was set up in the residential neighborhood that surrounds the Young Israel of New Rochelle synagogue, where several people contracted the disease from a congregant.

Although more than 100 confirmed cases of COVID-19 have been reported in New Rochelle, Soricelli said he didn’t know anybody who tested positive for it. However, he does know people who have attended the synagogue, he said.

At least some clients have been concerned about his office being in New Rochelle, but he has explained to them that his office is not in or by the containment zone, he said. Most business can be conducted by phone anyway. Soricelli pointed out that he “executed some business” on Friday and had “probably spoken to a half a dozen clients” that day also.

A large percentage of his clients are over 60 — “baby boomers and beyond,” he noted. When asked if they were more concerned about the virus or what has been happening with the stock market, he replied: “There’s a strong concern about the coronavirus … Based upon the demographics, the portfolios were not overweight equities in any way so, therefore, their portfolios, while they may have lost a small amount of money in the short term, they’re OK. But they are very concerned about what’s going on and the panic and the lines for toilet paper.”

Managing in much the same way are the advisors at Sterling Advisory Services in New Rochelle, according to Sterling Jasper, its owner, who said his office is located “just outside” the containment zone. Like Soricelli, Jasper said he did not know anybody who tested positive for the virus.

“I don’t know that we’ve been impacted,” he told ThinkAdvisor on Monday, adding: “It’s more emotional management than anything else.”

“There’s an elevated sense of fear certainly” among clients, who have been asking how the coronavirus and resulting stock market declines will affect their retirements, he said. In response, Jasper said, he is generally telling them: “Unless you’re retiring today, it’s not going to impact you at all,” although “you have to stay healthy, of course.” Like Soricelli, he said his clients tend to be listening to advice to not change their portfolios much and just stay the course.

Although “we’ve limited any sort of in-person contact with the clients” and he and his staff are speaking with customers entirely by phone now, he noted many of his discussions with clients tend to be over the phone anyway. And while he and his staff are often working remotely now, they have done so routinely in the past, he noted. The work “doesn’t require us to get in harm’s way or to bring anyone else within harm’s way,” he said.

Similar in Seattle

The office of Seattle-based advisory firm Robertson/Das, which is affiliated with LPL Financial as its RIA, has been open during its normal business hours, according to financial planner Sanjay A. Das, a partner at the firm.

“We are a small office with two planners and an office manager, so we haven’t been nervous enough to close down the office,” he said by email Friday. “We have been taking lots of phone calls and answering emails” from concerned clients, “but I think it is more to do with tax season and the stock market volatility than the virus itself, per se,” he added.

“It’s pretty scary what’s happening here, where schools are shut down till the end of April” and restaurants are shutting down completely, he also said, noting he has two daughters, 9 and 11 years old, who are being affected.

Echoing the advisors in New Rochelle, he said: “The volatility just means even more communication with clients whether proactively by us (sending out letters/email communication) or phone calls which really amount to hand-holding. Most of our clients were with us in 2008-2009 so it is just reminding them of what we experienced together during that time and remembering to stay the course.”

Employees at Seattle-based Laird Norton Wealth Management, meanwhile, “have the option of working remotely or from the office,” according to Carla Wigen, its managing director of fiduciary strategy. “So far, the office (and building) is open during normal business hours,” she said Monday, adding: “We’ve had a mix of people working from different locations and at different times as they juggle new responsibilities. We’ve tried to open up more parking options for employees who need it to reduce crowds on public transportation and allow for social distancing. We’ve even stocked up on disposable thermometers so anyone who’s worried they might be getting a fever can check it out for themselves. There’s a lot going on so we’re all trying to be flexible and do what we can to keep our people safe and comfortable as they continue to take care of client requests.”

The firm has also been keeping clients “informed with regular updates on our operations and on financial markets,” she said, adding: “We’ve provided the option of moving all regularly scheduled client meetings to conference or video calls. Everyone’s had to make adjustments.”

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