As devastating as the coronavirus is, from the vantage point of this financial advisor, “the pandemic is the best thing that has ever happened to the financial services industry.”
So argues Jonathan Israel, a senior vice president in wealth management at UBS Financial Services.
“It’s changed and improved the way we do business. It’s likely caused permanent changes to our profession, largely around technology,” insists Israel, 37, who was recruited by UBS in 2011 after five years with Edward Jones, where he started out as a rookie.
He now manages $236 million as an advisor with Affinity Wealth Partners, which has $1.1 billion in assets under management.
Named one of UBS’s Top 35 Advisors under 35 in 2019, Israel has added more clients and new assets since the pandemic hit than at any time in his 15-year career.
Based in Los Angeles, he specializes in retirement planning for small- and midsize-business owners and their families.
The biggest change the pandemic brought for financial advisors was triggered by coronavirus quarantining and stay-at-home orders.
But it was a change that, generally, both advisor and client would find advantageous.
Meeting virtually from our homes “has the potential to really deepen the relationship,” he says.
In fact, “a good portion of my meetings going forward — probably forever — will be done virtually,” the FA enthuses. “Many of my clients now prefer to meet [remotely] versus in person.”
When it comes to client portfolios, the pandemic has driven Israel to focus more on cash needs for the next three or four years. That means putting those funds aside into safe investments, such as money markets.
ThinkAdvisor recently interviewed Israel, who holds the Certified Private Wealth Advisor designation, who was speaking by phone from his home in the Los Angeles suburbs.
Though he contends that the pandemic has permanently changed some ways that FAs carry out their jobs, he stresses that, “on a fundamental level, nothing has changed.”
As always, “advisors need to focus on personal connections, financial planning and offering clients support to stay focused on the long term,” he says.
Here are excerpts from our interview:
THINKADVISOR: What impact did the coronavirus pandemic have on the industry?
JONATHAN ISRAEL: I don’t for a moment minimize the tragedy of the pandemic’s hundreds of thousands of untimely deaths. But I believe that the pandemic is the best thing that has ever happened to the financial services industry.
In what way?
It’s changed and improved the way we do business because we were forced to find new and better ways of serving clients. In particular, we had to quickly adopt remote communication.
COVID has likely caused permanent changes to our profession, largely around technology. For instance, clients adopted DocuSign electronic signature [replacing signing and mailing papers] at a rapid pace.
We’re not going to go back to physical paper for things like that.
The experience has given us the opportunity to connect with clients in a new way. Very quickly everything became virtual; advisors began working with clients using Zoom meetings.
Clients enjoy getting a peek into my home and seeing my little kids, and the reverse is true, too. You get to meet the rest of the client’s family.
You learn a lot about someone when you visit their home, even if it’s just virtually. These things can be endearing and humanizing.
How does that help you as an advisor?
It has the potential to really deepen the relationship. Even though we’re starting to meet with clients in person, many now prefer to meet virtually.
They admitted they never really enjoyed the traffic getting to [my office in L.A.’s] Century City. It’s so much easier to just pull up the computer, do a Zoom and see each other that way.
I imagine that a good portion of my meetings going forward, probably forever, will be done virtually.
Did you acquire more clients during the pandemic?
I added more clients and new assets since the pandemic hit than at any time in my career.
They were from referrals from centers of influence and from prospecting efforts. We’ve brought on clients that we’ve met only virtually. Some of those referred to us are located all the way across the country.
Before, there was a preference to have an advisor who was local, so you could meet face to face. Now people are accepting meeting virtually and engaging in business that way.
Why have you been so successful at adding new clients?
Because we focus really heavily on financial planning. It’s the key to everything that we do, and the pandemic really brought that into focus.
It’s not just a plan for, say, funding retirement. It’s also a plan for how to react in a bear market. We plan for bear markets.
Our clients accept that bear markets are going to happen. They’re scary, but they’re always temporary.