By Michelle Curry
Who did you decide to become during this global shift? I know I spent a lot of time working to answer this question over the past few months. The answer is: I need to show up now, more than ever. For me, recent circumstances illuminated the importance of my role as a compassionate leader to my clients.
As financial professionals, we’ve had it pretty good over the last decade. The market has mostly cooperated and the need for our profession continues to grow. But rather unexpectedly, we’ve all been forced to deal with major market volatility and life uncertainty. Now, having been in the business during the 2008-09 Great Recession, I felt much more prepared and composed this time around and had learned some lessons previously regarding the market and client emotions. But the most significant difference we face now is the fact that our clients aren’t just dealing with an economic crisis, they’re also dealing with a health crisis.
As a compassionate leader, first and foremost I knew I had to take action in showing care for my clients, fellow human beings, because wealth doesn’t much matter without our health. People are genuinely concerned for their lives and the lives of their loved ones and that’s where the conversation begins.
I had a client express to me that she hasn’t left her home except to walk her dogs for fear of dying; she wants to be around for her grandchildren. Think about how drastic of a change that is from just months before when she freely went out and about without a thought to her mortality. This is a scary mindset to be in. We must acknowledge that and try to provide comfort during this time. We must also recognize that that is a permanent shift for her and many others. Even when the virus subsides, it will be a long time before she can be in public without worry.
I know we all care deeply for our clients. I found this to be an opportunity to really build deeper relationships with them. It’s so easy to get caught up with business matters. I realized I would sometimes forget to just check in with clients. Now, I’m more interested in hearing about what people are dealing with in every aspect of life to see if there is a way I can support them. The days of quarantine are isolating, so it’s important to let people know they are not alone both in their thoughts and concerns, but also not alone because they have you, their financial professional.
Feed Calm, Not Fear
Another way I’m showing up is in my professional, confident leader role. We have been through recessions and corrections before and our responsibility is to help clients stay on track and make smart, effective decisions. We must show up as pillars of strength, remaining calm for those wanting to take action out of fear.
The beginning market descent in early March, because it happened so quickly, was when I felt the greatest panic from people in general. That initial drop is like the first dip on a roller coaster: your body and mind haven’t yet prepared for it and it tends to jolt you the most. This is when the emotional few get dramatically concerned about the market free-falling. I was asked, “Are we headed into another Great Depression?” and told, “I’m a doomsdayer. I don’t see how we can get out of this anytime soon.” This is where we have to keep the most collected, clarify any flashy headlines they are reading, and remind them that this is part of investing. Even some of my clients who “should know better,” had doubts and thoughts to jump ship from the market. Because it’s been quite some time since they’ve experienced volatility, they’ve forgotten.
The psychologists Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman identified the concept of loss aversion, which says that the pain of loss is experienced more dramatically than the joy of gain. This is so important. No one called me out of the pure joy of having made 25%+ in 2019, but there is definite panic when their account drops 25%. I don’t disregard the fact that it took one year to make 25% and not even one month to lose 25%, but that is the nature of recessions. As you know, they tend to be relatively quick and steep.
We can’t save our clients from the storm, but we can definitely see them through it. Reach out and actually call clients. (We are so inundated by email; a phone call can be a welcome chance to visit and lessen a sense of isolation.) Update them on legislative changes, the market, underwriting adjustments due to COVID-19. Keep in front of them to keep them educated and to show them you care. Communication is key.
Lastly, it’s important to realize that we are well equipped for these moments in life. Think about it: we are often introduced or start working with someone because of major life events. They’ve had a baby, changed jobs, sold their business, retired, had a death in the family–you name it. Things will not go back to what they once were for that family. We are of most value during times of change, so we need to be forward-thinking, remind them of the importance of planning, and keep nudging people to get things done.
This is a time of huge transition for EVERYONE, so the opportunities are endless. The adjustment to working from home has provided most with a little more time in their day since there’s no commute. Take advantage of that ‘found’ time and get people involved. I started inviting clients out for “virtual lunches” to bring back some semblance of normalcy. The world has shifted, so how are we going to evolve with that shift for our clients? And what do they need to do differently in this new landscape?
Even if someone’s life was not affected much, there are always things to address. I have yet to meet with someone where we haven’t uncovered something that could be better or needed to be updated. To step even more powerfully into this new business era, to uncover new opportunities, don’t just take a look at their investments, dive deeper into what they’re doing and find out why. When reviewing their protection strategies, take a thorough personal look at who they are protecting–will that loved one be taken care of? Build more trusting relationships with attorneys and CPAs to ensure their planning is holistic. There are always things to be done and our processes can always be enhanced.
Since things will not be going back to the way they were, I’m focused now on looking ahead. What can we secure, what foundation can we build now, so that when things get back to the ‘new abnormal’, you can move forward confidently? This is a perfect time with the forced pause in life to re-set and make any necessary changes.
Masks to the rescue!
Embodying the compassionate leader, I’ve really started to show up in new ways. Once the ordinance came down in Los Angeles that everyone needed to wear masks while in public, I thought: now there’s something I can help with! Masks were hard to come by in a timely manner, so I employed a relative, who was recently laid off and had coincidentally just taught herself how to sew, to make masks for my clients. Even finding the materials was a bit difficult, but we figured it out and made it happen. Now never in a million years did I think I’d be sending out face masks to clients, but life is full of surprises. I can’t tell you what thoughtful responses I received from sending those out and how fulfilling that was for me. It provided them some peace of mind, and one less thing to try and find during all the craziness. It also inadvertently turned into a great marketing idea as I started to get requests for more masks from their family members and referrals to people intrigued by the financial professional who’s sending out masks. I love helping my clients grow and protect their wealth, but this was something far greater.
Be a compassion champion
If you take nothing else away from this piece, be reminded of our true role as compassionate, professional, confident leaders. It was easier to be a financial professional in 2019. It is vital that we step up right now for our clients when it’s not so easy. These are vulnerable times. We know some of the most intimate details about our clients, so let’s strengthen those relationships. This is what we do. Our job is to help clients plan for the future, but also navigate them through the present. Get creative, listen to your heart and take good care of people.
Michelle A. Curry, CFP®, ChFC, CLU is a Certified Financial Planner™ professional and Retirement Planning Specialist with Equitable Advisors, in Woodland Hills. She focuses on working to build and preserve multi-generational wealth for families and businesses. Michelle, a Court of the Table member of MDRT amongst many other accolades, has been practicing for 14 years and enjoys building close, long-term relationships with her clients. When she’s not working or playing with her young family, you’ll probably find her supporting the arts, in a dance or yoga class or at the spa! You can reach her at: Michelle.Curry@equitable.com. Equitable Advisors is the brand name of AXA Advisors, LLC, (member FINRA/SIPC).