Seven months after the coronavirus shuttered advisory firm offices across the country, many advisers continue to work from home and remain uncertain about when they will return, new data from InvestmentNews Research and Transamerica shows.
The findings are part of an ongoing research series exploring evolving adviser business practices as a global pandemic reshapes how we live and work. The first research in our series looked at how prospecting for clients has changed. The latest survey of advisers looked at whether – and how – firms are opening their offices as the rest of the economy gradually reopens.
Many offices remain closed. As of October, 29% of firms in the survey indicated their office operations remain “fully remote” and 17% say a majority of employees are still working remotely. On the other end of the spectrum, a third of firms indicate no one is working remotely.
Many firms are comfortable taking a wait-and-see approach because neither advisers nor clients are in a rush to come back.
“Our offices are ‘electively open’” describes Jud Mackrill, chief marketing officer at The Carson Group. “Our offices are open if you wish to be there and feel safe and comfortable, but it is by no means a mandate to be here … everyone has taken this situation differently.”
Regional Differences Exist
As the map below shows, regions such as the West Coast and Northeast that were hard hit in the early days of the coronavirus have been slower to reopen offices. More than half of surveyed advisers from both regions say the majority of staff are still working remotely.
Merit Financial Advisors has offices in Connecticut, Georgia, Texas, Alabama, North Carolina and Florida. The firm has not mandated employees come in and is letting branch managers make decisions on the office, but by and large, the firm is experiencing stronger in-person attendance in offices where local schools are open.
“It’s a real hardship for parents of school age children if they have kids at home,” said Merit President Kay Lynn Mayhue.
Smaller firms were also more likely to open faster. Among surveyed firms with fewer than 25 employees, 91% had staff working mostly remote in March. By October, that portion had fallen to just 40%. Conversely, among surveyed firms with more than 25 employees, 85% were working mostly remote in March, and 61% remain mostly remote today.
The chart below shows that having a small staff was one of the most frequently cited factors informing a firm’s decision to reopen its office.
Uncertainty about when to reopen remains high
Among surveyed firms in which staff are working entirely remotely (33%), only 6% expect to return to offices in 2020. Nearly half of those firms believe they will open in 2021, while 38% are simply not sure when they will open.
Private Ocean, a large RIA based outside of San Francisco, recently decided it will wait until at least March 31 before employees are required to come to the office. The offices are already open for the relatively few people who don’t want to work remotely.
“What we’ve learned is that the vast majority of people just prefer to be at home,” Private Ocean Founder and CEO Greg Friedman said.
The same goes for clients, Friedman added. When Private Ocean made it optional for employees to come in, they asked clients to let them know if they wanted to meet in person. Only a handful chose that option, he said.
Firms that reopen are taking many precautionary measures
In its offices, Merit provides hand sanitizer, Clorox wipes and disposable masks. The firm also relies on non-touch thermometers to take people’s temperature before they come into the office. The firm looked at what larger companies in its regions were doing to help determine its own safety protocols, Merit’s Mayhue said.
Private Ocean uses many of those same protocols and also has signs in its office directing people on which way to walk through the office. The firm is also requiring employees to log in on a calendar, so they know who was in the office each day.
Hoping to Return
While Mayhue believes Merit employees have navigated the remote work environment well, it is not always ideal.
“I believe there is extreme value in community and in-person collaboration,” she said. She notes that the firm’s marketing is centralized and by not having people in the same room, “I feel like we’re missing out on some of that energy and group genius.”
The firm has held small virtual events to keep employees connected. For example, an employee who is a “phenomenal chef” walked them through a cooking and wine tasting experience.
However, “we’re very anxious to get back to the old normal we had,” Mayhue said.
Transamerica Resources, Inc. is an Aegon company and is affiliated with various companies which include, but are not limited to, insurance companies and broker dealers. Transamerica Resources, Inc. does not offer insurance products or securities. The information provided is for educational purposes only and should not be construed as insurance, securities, ERISA, tax, investment, legal, medical or financial advice or guidance. Please consult your personal independent professionals for answers to your specific questions.
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