Every financial advisor has been there. You wake up with a surprise illness, your car breaks down on your way into the office, or your kid gets hurt at school and needs to be picked up. Your calendar was full of client meetings that now need to be moved and responsibilities that need to be handled.
Life has a way of throwing a wrench into your work, but with a proper plan in place, you can navigate these incidents seamlessly – without hurting your clients or your long-term goals. We spoke with five seasoned advisors who shared their best strategies for short-term contingency planning.
1. Rely on your team
The most vital resource advisors can turn to, in a pinch, are their colleagues. Every advisor interviewed agrees that delegating tasks to members of their team is essential to get through life’s little hiccups.
“Having a team structure is critical for an advisor to be able to withstand any kind of interruption in terms of their practice,” says Susan Latremoille, director, wealth management and wealth advisor with the Latremoille Begg Group at Richardson GMP Ltd. in Toronto. “Have a team of people rather than just everything relying on [you] personally.
Ms. Latremoille says each staff member at the Latremoille Begg Group has one colleague delegated to step in as his or her back-up when needed.
“If they’re unavailable for either sickness or vacation or time out of the office, there’s always somebody there that has their back and also knows their role and can step in and take over,” she says.
2. Prepare your staff to handle worst-case scenarios
Assigning specific team members to take on your responsibilities when you’re out of commission is only effective if they’re prepared to do so well in advance.
Ms. Latremoille says every member of her team keeps their responsibilities, workflow and other processes written down, which colleagues can refer to in the event of their absence.
“If somebody does have to step in, then they can refer to the manual, ‘the binder,’ as we’ve called it, and get all the nuances, all the little aspects of the role that would make it look as if it’s seamless, even if it wasn’t – even if they were scrambling behind the scenes to make it happen,” Ms. Latremoille says.
Similarly, Rebecca Horwood, director, wealth management and portfolio manager with the Horwood Team, also at Richardson GMP in Toronto, says she makes a proactive effort to train her staff to cover for their colleagues well before any incidents pop up.
She compares the preparation process for a last-minute absence within the team to that of a fire drill.
In preparing for a fire drill, “you set up a captain, you would practice the fire drill … work as a team, you have one person responding to another, one person make this authority,” she says.
“You practice the fire drill because [you want to be prepared for the] worst-case scenario: What happens if you have a fire?” Ms. Horwood asks. “You don’t want people going crazy, running down the stairs and tripping.”
Adopting a similar mentality toward training team members to cover for one another is the best way to keep everyone prepared for emergency scenarios at all times, Ms. Horwood says.
3. Introduce your clients to all members of your team
Although having access to a roster of back-ups is useful during emergencies, clients can be picky, and some may not be comfortable working with an advisor who isn’t their own, even for a short time.
To avoid this situation, several advisors say they ensure their clients meet every member of their team and not only know what each of them do, but trust them to do it.
For example, Ms. Latremoille says she makes an effort to introduce each new client to every member of her team upon the intake process.
And Alim Dhanji, senior financial planner at Assante Financial Management Ltd. in Vancouver, says he invites his staff to client events regularly so the two parties can get to know each other on a personal level.
“It helps with the relationship, and it helps clients know that it’s not just me managing everything,” Mr. Dhanji says. “You have to be comfortable with the team that you’re working with. It’s just comfort. Comfort and peace of mind.”
4. Use technology to keep an eye from afar
Even the best-laid plans can go awry – and it’s the fear of this happening, despite preparation, that makes it so difficult for some advisors to step away from work. Rona Birenbaum, certified financial planner and founder of Toronto-based fee-only financial planning firm Caring for Clients, says having access to a “mobile office” has been a saving grace during times when she’s had to step away from work.
“These days, our phones and tablets allow us to work from anywhere,” Ms. Birenbaum says. “Clients don’t know where you are emailing them from. Through the internet, we have access to all the information we need at any point in time.”
Ms. Birenbaum suggests “embracing technology” during times when you’re away from the office. She uses software such as Slack, an internal team collaboration and communications platform, and Zoom, a videoconferencing tool, to keep an eye on her team from afar. Even short check-ins can provide peace of mind in knowing everything’s okay despite your absence.
5. Don’t feel guilty for stepping away
Setting work aside, even briefly, can come with all sorts of feelings, including fear of consequence or guilt over a perceived sense that you’ve neglected your clients. But advisors underscore the importance of practising self-forgiveness in these moments.
“Life happens. That’s the most realistic thing,” says Tony Mahabir, chairman and chief executive at Canfin Financial Group of Companies in Toronto. “You’re human.”
Mr. Mahabir says that in his experience, the majority of clients understand when emergencies get in the way of their advisors’ work.
“Clients are genuinely sympathetic,” he says. “This is a business of trust.”