There were several steps that Cetera Financial Group took at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic to help its advisors navigate the many challenges that arose, according to Adam Antoniades, the firm’s CEO.
“I’m not sure that my timing” in being promoted to CEO from president in late 2019 was “particularly good given everything we’ve been dealing with” since then, he joked on Wednesday, during the online Fearless Week conference session “Leadership Through Crisis: An Interview with Cetera’s Adam Antoniades.”
However, “suffice it to say, it’s a little bit of a blip for us given some of the history that we’ve experienced at Cetera and some of the challenges that have really resulted in the company being very resilient through these types of environments,” he noted.
Clearly the pandemic and its economic impact have created challenges specific to the financial sector. But “the biggest impact of the pandemic, beyond sort of the work-from-home experience and the disruption to the normal course of business, has really been the effect of interest rates on organizations like ours,” according to Antoniades.
After all, “we have a significant revenue stream that’s derived from that, and it really compromised a significant portion of every firm out there” in terms of their profitability, he said.
What was important was to find a way to react “in a way that ensures that you’re not abandoning your core principles of supporting your advisors and our clients, of course, at a time when they need you the most,” he said.
Cetera wanted to make sure its advisors did not stop talking to their clients, something that happens “all too often” during a crisis, he noted.
He pointed to three key ways in which Cetera helped its advisors after the pandemic started:
The firm wasn’t afraid to “over-communicate,” Antoniades said, adding: “We got into a rhythm of really reaching out to our advisors and communicating to them consistently.” That communication included “open mic” sessions via Zoom in which advisors could ask whatever they wanted, he noted.
That’s important because, “in the absence of a very real communication plan what you find is people fill in the blanks and that’s never a great outcome for anybody,” he said.
Listening and Acting
Because of that transparency through communication, Cetera realized it was important to listen to the concerns of advisors and clients and act upon what the firm heard from them, he said.
“Being nimble, being quick to respond [and] making sure you’re not paralyzed” through this crisis was “really critical,” he noted.
The concerns that Cetera heard were different from concerns raised during disrupted markets in the past. For one thing, “clients weren’t blaming the advisors and that was important for us to hear because it gave us the breathing room to really focus in other areas and implications of the pandemic,” he said.
Creating the Advisor Resiliency Pack
The company very quickly put together an Advisor Resiliency Pack to help advisors “deal with all the facets of their business and the way they were being challenged,” he noted. That included assistance to those advisors who needed help economically through assistance with growth loan opportunities and assistance navigating the application process for federal government stimulus loans, he said.
Cetera’s comprehensive suite of services provided advisors with resources specifically addressing the challenges they faced, along with tools and consulting services, to help them manage through disruption and continue to effectively help their clients, Cetera said when announcing the pack April 1.
The firm also shifted quickly after the pandemic started to get its advisors up to speed on video conferencing, making sure to address any potential security issues, Antoniades said.
The company also continued to stress to its advisors the importance of lead generation and referrals, he added.
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