Melissa Joy (center), daughter Josie, 6 (left), son Gus, 10, and cat Jack in their “home office.”

Melissa Joy is a certified financial planner and president of Pearl Planning, an independent advisory group in Dexter, Michigan (near Ann Arbor), an affiliate of Raymond James. She’s also a married mother of two. 

Joy, who’s active on Twitter and in local media, opened up about the challenges of her new work-life schedule during the coronavirus pandemic. She also shared details on how to best serve clients and take care of yourself while working from home.

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THINKADVISOR: What are your clients asking you? 

MELISSA JOY: First they were asking if they’re going to be OK.  

Overall, my clients have been sticking with the process. We haven’t had anybody liquidate or go to cash. It was a good start.

Now, I’m also starting to get phone calls about layoffs from clients in hospitality and with small businesses. We’re triaging that. 

How are you helping clients most in need?

I talk with them, and many are financial planning clients. They’re relatively well positioned, as I’ve encouraged everyone to have emergency reserves. We worked on that together. 

But one client’s house was sold, and now she’s buying a new home. Both deals are under contract to close in May, and she’s a hotel executive with a company that [temporarily] laid off everyone. 

We have to help save this home [purchase]. She really wants to live in the new home and has relative security in that she should have the same job once the hotel’s reopened. But it’s very bad timing for her and the closing. 

I explained to her, “I feel so much empathy for you in these circumstances. Let’s get to work and look at the possibilities.

“Is there any possibility with the CARES [stimulus] Act that people could be called back [to work at the hotel]? How about talking though mortgage options. Could you qualify based on your assets? As a 40-something-age accumulator, would it be possible for your retirement assets to count?

“The CARES Act has provisions to take that money out without penalties to at least show you have that money.” 

It’s a lot easier to be action oriented, with the CARES Act and as financial planners. We can get to work and figure out how to save that deal.

How is it working from home? Any best practices?

I’ve got a 6- and a 10-year old, who are in kindergarten and fifth grade, respectively. My husband is a computer programmer with a big setup trying to work remotely, too.  

He’s doing a lot of the [school] principal duties, so I have the time to focus on helping clients, which is changing day to day.

My best practices are to have a schedule, communicate with the family about that schedule and find space of your own.

I’ve never had my house feel so small. We have plenty of room, but I feel that I could use just another 500 square feet of an office.

Recently, I was working down in the basement. Sometimes, it seems that no matter where you go to work, the Wi-Fi is weaker than in places.

Just like we’re asking our clients to be adaptable, you’ve got to be flexible and adaptable working from home. 

How about your team and working remotely?

The entire team since 2018 has had laptops. There’s a high-trust culture vs. one in which there’s lots of checking in. Everybody’s pitching in. 

We can focus on getting things done, and that means I’m feeling very empowered to be as proactive with people as possible right now and really get things done. 

We have one other advisor, one full-time employee and one virtual paraplanner. We’ve extended a [job] offer to a soon-to-be college graduate who’s in a financial planning/wealth management program … and don’t plan to rescind it.

We are fortunate and have a lot of emergency reserves, capital or cash that I’ve kept in the business just for times like this. We’ll bring her on as another paraplanner. 

How are you finding support, taking breaks and staying inspired during the coronavirus crisis?  

I have a close group of other financial advisor friends, mainly women. We’ve been in touch a lot. They’re the people that I can be really honest with about the day you’re having. 

We’ve all had different moments when it’s just so tough. A couple days ago, I wasn’t having clients who wanted to capitulate [and get out of the markets] but some of my friends were.

It’s so important to have a professional network of peers where you can be “real real.”

With my family, I’ve been getting outside and taking walks on the weekend, which is nice. We’re still waiting for spring.

I’m very lucky. My husband’s been a rock, really adapted in terms of taking care of a lot of the kids’ stuff, given the circumstances in which this is “go time” in a financial advisor’s life. We need lots of support, which is a big deal.

I also am fortunate enough to have resources to make things possible [in my work life]. If I were a single parent, it would be so much harder.

I’m very inspired today, since the work of financial planners is so necessary right now. And I also very much appreciate first-line responders and the work they do. We are in a scenario that is a big deal in ways we never imagined possible. 

— See how advisor Douglas Boneparth is working from home.