Frozen like a deer in the headlights. It’s likely a good description of your clients and many advisors during the COVID-19 pandemic. We are told to work from home. Not go out. Avoid in-person social contact. Cold calling seems prohibited under rules like New York’s state of emergency. Do the wrong thing and you are labeled insensitive. What should an advisor do?
The simple answer is: “Do something.” We must all stop treating this like a bad dream or a very long disaster movie and insert ourselves into the plot. Let’s assume you have gotten in touch with all your clients, letting them know help is available when they need it. The phone doesn’t ring much.
This tragic state of events will be behind us someday. Many people will look back with 20/20 hindsight and say: “I knew this was going to work out. What did my advisor do?” If that answer isn’t compelling, they might wonder “Why am I paying them?” You need to take action while things are still tough.
- Establish an informal contact protocol with clients. Everyone has a preferred communication channel. Maybe it’s by phone for older clients, text for younger ones and email for the folks in the middle. Let them hear your voice or see your name on a regular basis.
- Find good news to share. They get bad news on TV. They get conspiracy theories from well-meaning friends. This is a worldwide problem. There’s an upside: Different countries are in different stages. There’s positive news somewhere. Flattening of the curve. How many companies are working on vaccines? Are survival rates up? Carefully document your sources. Pass good news along in a format that won’t have compliance officers in surgical masks knocking on your door. Your own firm likely finds good news.
- Call when their statement arrives. You have a good idea when this happens. Yours comes through the mail slot too. It’s a comprehensive picture. Call clients. “Let’s open it together.” You should be able to see their statement online. They will likely be upset. Sit there and take it. They need to vent. Now, point out the bright spots. What’s doing well? Many people are by nature optimists. They will focus on the bright spots. It’s a life preserver in a stormy sea.
- Suggest taking action. There must be something that looks like a good buy right now. Hopefully they have some cash in reserve across their accounts. Make the case why they should take action. You might try asking “What’s the best stock you ever owned? How is it doing now?” If they buy, they will likely brag to their friends. Even if they don’t, they will remember you made the suggestion.
- Talk yield, from a different viewpoint. Maybe they like income. Who doesn’t? Traditional fixed income pays a pittance at the moment. Ask them who they write checks to monthly when they pay their bills. They will likely come up with the power company, wireless provider, insurance company and a few more. They are probably public companies. What do the dividends look like? Does your firm say the company is good and the dividend secure? They will likely make the connection “Good times or bad, these bills must get paid.” This may help them come around to the total return strategy.
- Talk health. How are they doing? Are they healthy? How about in-laws and extended family? There’s no business purpose here. Sound them out. Let them talk, expressing their concerns, fears and worries. You are demonstrating humanity. Robo advisors can’t do that.
- How are they filling their time? Draw them out again. Don’t jump in and tell them what you are doing. Ask probing questions. Get them talking. When conversation slows down, tell about your activities and funny stories about what people are doing. It’s another dose of humanity.
- Vacation planning. This sounds ridiculous! Right now, it sounds like we will never fly or sail anywhere ever again! It’s too big a risk. Imagine if you flew to Europe and they didn’t let you back into the U.S.! This too shall pass. Approach this from one of two ways: Plan a domestic driving vacation this year. No planes. No ships. No passports. Social distancing at a rented beach house or a golf resort sounds practical. Get them doping some research. The second approach is eventually life will return to normal. Every country needs tourism. They’ll find a way to make it work. Suggest they think about that dream vacation. Prices are likely dirt-cheap right now. They aren’t booking any tickets. They are thinking of better times ahead.
- Tell them you like them. Remind them they are an important client. You’ve been together (X) years. You like them. Share a few personal reasons. It’s easy talking to them. You look forward to those calls. They have a good sense of humor. You are both wine fans. People do business with people they like. Let them know you like them.
It’s easy to say “I’m here if you need me. Just call.” It’s better to say: “I’m here. It’s me again. I heard some positive news I wanted to share…”