Going beyond the call of fiduciary duty

Wealth advisor shares how his firm has stepped up to support clients in the thick of the COVID-19 crisis

Going beyond the call of fiduciary duty

In the midst of the economic ravages of the coronavirus pandemic, federal and provincial governments around Canada have extended a raft of emergency aid measures to rescue workers and business owners at the financial brink. But as strong and expansive as those programs are, they can’t address every problem caused by COVID-19 – and financial advisors have to do what they can to pick up the slack.

That was the view of Dan Nolan, regional vice president, Ontario East and wealth advisor at Investment Planning Counsel.

“It really is about going beyond and stepping up,” Nolan said. “As financial planners and investment advisors, we are one of the most trusted professionals in their lives. I think we have an obligation not just to help on the financial side, but to ask what else we can do to help in times like this.”

Stress in the time of corona
While the majority of his clients are navigating through the COVID-19 pandemic really quite well, some have been impacted more than others. That includes owners of non-essential businesses who are getting no revenue but still have to pay to keep the lights on.

“I have a couple of chiropractor clients; they’re health professionals, but they’re not essential,” Nolan said. “As a result, they still have all their ongoing obligations from a business-expense standpoint, but no income. Other business owners can keep operating, but most if not all aren’t getting the volumes they used to, and have to pay additional expenses because of coronavirus safety protocols.”

Like other struggling entrepreneurs, many of his clients are availing of assistance through various programs offered by the government. But since much of that aid is in the form of loans, recipients must keep a worried eye on their debt, and hope they can recover enough business to prevent their liquidity problems from becoming a solvency issue.

“The CERB [Canada Emergency Response Benefit] is also creating some challenges,” Nolan said. “The amount people are getting is enough that some of my clients, notably those with construction and landscaping businesses, are having difficulty finding people willing to work.”

Among retired clients, he said some with health issues are reporting high levels of anxiety as they contemplate leaving their homes and contracting COVID-19 as a result. That’s adding to the ill effects of social isolation caused by long-drawn lockdown and social-distancing measures.

Pick-ups, check-ins, and thank yous
“When all this started, I identified certain individuals that I thought will need an extra hand,” Nolan said. “We’re getting a little more comfortable these days, but when tensions were high, my team, my family, and I went out and helped pick up essentials like groceries for people.”

His team also went beyond the call of fiduciary duty in terms of helping clients meet their tax filing deadline, which for this year was extended to June 1 in light of the coronavirus crisis. A couple of dozen of his housebound clients were having trouble getting tax documents to their accountants. While most tax preparers only want to deal virtually – they require everything to be scanned and docu-signed – not all clients were comfortable with it. So he organized a pick-up and delivery service to collect those clients’ documents, which he and his team would then scan and send off to their accountants before handing it back to them.

“We also sent out a dozen or so gift baskets to selected clients, most of whom work in the healthcare industry and have been going above and beyond these past few months,” he said. “The baskets included some wine, some cheese and crackers, and a simple message saying thank you and hoping that they’re coping well.”

Letting go of handshakes
He added that dealing with any crisis clients may be facing, whether it be COVID-19 or other market-shaking events, is all about proactive communication. Given today’s trying times, that has become more reliant on technology than ever, which many clients have been able to grasp and embrace as they enjoy having meetings from the comfort of home.

“But there are some clients who have limited capacity for it, and that tends to increase as you roll up the age spectrum,” he said. “If you look at the baby boomers, they’re grasping technology. They’re embracing it. But they were brought up on a handshake and a look in each other’s eyes, which have become even rarer during this whole crisis.”

Some older clients are very reticent, Nolan said, showing great hesitation and anxiety in learning even simple actions like clicking on a button. That can prove problematic in many instances where an advisor needs a client’s sign-off or urgently has to provide a portfolio update or progress review.

“We’re doing our best to educate them as well on this, to help them become comfortable with the technology and with doing some things virtually, and we’re making inroads” he said. “As time goes on, you’re going to have to adapt, and I think they will; it’s just going to be a small minority who don’t in the end.”


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