The deadly winter weather spreading across large swaths of the country has pushed some financial advisers to new levels of creativity in order to service clients, and in many cases, just to stay warm.
In the Dallas-Fort Worth metropolitan area, where approximately four million homes are without power or subjected to rolling blackouts amid sub-freezing temperatures, Vance Barse is balancing client services with the threat of frozen pipes, while he and his wife tend to two sick children.
“This blizzard takes all of the concepts we learned on the job during Covid and puts them on steroids,” said Barse, founder of Your Dedicated Fiduciary. “We’ve got freezing roads, frozen pipes, and the inability to go anywhere to get anything. The takeaway for financial planners is, it’s really important to focus on risk management before it occurs.”
Barse, who relocated to Dallas from San Diego last year, said his advisory practice remains “completely open for business,” despite sporadic power outages that only provides electricity in 45-minute increments.
“We’re completely open and it’s business as usual but we’re in triage mode,” he said. “When the power comes on and Wi-Fi boots back up, we can send emails, place trades and access documents on clients’ CRM accounts.”
Jennifer Grant, an adviser at Dallas-based Perryman Financial Advisory, said her coworkers are experiencing similar rolling power blackouts and that only two people have been able to get into the office.
“We’re trying to run a business, while trying to keep ourselves safe and warm, but the kids are not in school and our houses are not getting power,” she said. “When I woke up today it was negative 1 outside. I’ve lived here 20 years and I don’t ever recall it being this cold.”
Meanwhile, Grant added, the experience of pandemic-related lockdowns has taught folks how to adjust on the fly with relative, albeit chilly, ease.
“Covid, as difficult as it was, allowed us to work out all the kinks and fine tune our processes,” she said. “With this current storm, our office experienced no down time. We just fell back into our Covid contingencies, and all the people scheduled for in-person meetings went to Zoom.”
Scott Bishop, executive vice president of financial planning at STA Wealth Management in Houston, is also thanking his lucky stars for protocols that were put in place in 2019.
“Everything we have is in the cloud now, and everyone at our firm has been told if they lose power to have the direct number to the custodian on their voicemail so clients can at least have a backup if they need something right away,” he said.
Houston, which was hit by the ice storm after Dallas, has similar power outages and less predictable rolling blackouts, said Bishop, who is sharing a hotel room with a friend just to keep his phones and batteries charged.
“I had used all four of my backup battery chargers,” he said. “Who thinks to have more than four battery backups?”
Up in Portland, Oregon, even backup plans for backup plans are being tested as the area sees one of its most punishing winters in decades, according to Kyle Mast, owner of Clarity Financial. Mast, who runs his firm out of his home just south of Portland, said he is among the estimated 350,000 people in his area who have gone days without electricity.
As a state-registered adviser, he has had to put into action every stage of his contingency policies and procedures manual. “I have several redundancies because I’ve always worked from home and I have a pretty good home-office setup,” he said.
In addition to his home office Wi-Fi, Mast has hotspots on his cell phones. But during power outages without electricity coming to the house, he has been using the hotspot powered by the battery of his hybrid minivan, which he has been keeping charged with a gas-powered generator.
Yesterday, he drove 45 minutes to buy more gas for the generator.
“I’m turning the minivan battery on every half hour to kick on the Wi-Fi and I’m processing client paperwork over that Wi-Fi from my garage,” he said. “If this system fails, my next step would be to drive to a different town that has power.”
Freezing temperatures and power outages have affected much of the country. The deadly winter weather is testing the limits of creativity as advisers fight to serve clients and stay warm.
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As our second lead editor, Cindy Hamilton covers health, fitness and other wellness topics. She is also instrumental in making sure the content on the site is clear and accurate for our readers. Cindy received a BA and an MA from NYU.