No organization could have anticipated the unprecedented global implications of COVID-19.
The swift and relentless nature of the pandemic impacted the global economy in ways not seen during previous crises. Businesses across all industries were faced with critical decisions as they executed business continuity plans.
For our firm, it meant relying on a set of guiding principles to quickly make decisions to ensure the safety of 49,000 branch and home office associates, while also being there for our 7 million clients when they need us most.
Along the way, we learned valuable lessons that we are applying as we prepare for the “new normal.”
Prioritize Client Needs; Support Branch Teams
Being a financial services firm, we were one of 16 industries deemed by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) as essential.
While our branches are temporarily closed to outside visitors to protect our communities, this guidance enabled us to remain open for business and continue serving our clients.
Quickly we implemented guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as well as state and local government officials regarding strategies to limit disease spread and keep our branch teams and home office associates safe.
This included best practices around social distancing and hygiene measures that enabled us to keep our associates healthy and our 15,000 branches operational for our clients.
Leveraging technology, we enabled nearly all of our home office professionals, and many within our branches, to work from home — communicating with our clients and one another via telephone, WebEx, webinars, secure text and online access.
We also redeployed hundreds of service professionals within the first few days of the crisis to critical service functions to deal with increased call volumes from clients and branch team requests brought about by the uncertainty and resulting market volatility. Our systems and technology have performed extremely well during this environment.
In addition our firms continued focus is supporting the productivity of our branch teams with digital and mobile technology to serve our clients.
Communicate in a Timely, Clear and Consistent Way
With so much changing on a daily basis, we communicated quickly and consistently to our clients as well as our associates.
We provided updates to our clients through emails sent by our financial advisors, to not only inform them of the changes we were making, but also offer guidance about staying on track to reach their long-term goals.
For our associates, we are continuing to communicate frequently and across a variety of channels. In addition to sharing information about important decisions, we explain the rationale they’re based on, including the guiding principles we established at the beginning of the crisis.
Whether we’re communicating difficult decisions or good news such as our $2.7 million investment in nonprofits to help those most in need, we tried to connect our decisions back to our purpose.
We’re here to make a difference in the lives of our clients, families and communities, and that purpose takes on even more meaning during times like these.
Integrate Physical, Emotional and Financial Wellness
With a crisis of this magnitude, we recognize the need to be human-centered and empathetic while helping our clients and associates to feel understood, informed, secure and in control.
Early on, we created an online wellness resource center for clients and associates, providing an integrated approach to thinking about the physical, emotional and financial implications of COVID-19.
It includes perspective from physicians, psychologists and investment strategists, as well as information about the CARES Act for small-business owners.
For our associates, to ease concerns, we offered 10 additional days of paid time off for associates directly affected by the virus.
To help financial advisors who need time away from the office, we provide a Transitional Financial Advisor who can step in and provide clients with relationship-driven service and support.
We also are staying focused on our associates’ wellness. Our Employee Assistance Program, for example, offers free phone counseling and referral services to mental health professionals for associates and their immediate family members.
We’ve provided access to an interactive app with mindfulness, yoga and meditation resources. Our medical plan offers virtual doctor visits, allowing associates to consult with their physicians without needing a face-to-face visit.
With schools across the nation shut down, we know many of our associates are struggling to balance work, childcare and at-home teaching. That’s why we have provided our associates with access to a digital, interactive foundation course to help high school students better understand investing and the financial markets.
COVID-19 is causing an unprecedented shock to our global economy and the world in which we live. In the coming months and years, our industry will be faced with critical decisions as we recover and chart a new path forward.
If I’ve learned anything thus far, it’s to stay true to the core values of your organization, be tenacious in efforts to provide value to clients and use the current environment to prepare for what’s to come, as we work through this together.
Chuck Orban is leader of Branch and Region Development for Edward Jones.