RIAs are warming up to remote work

It’s been a year since John Middleton gathered his four employees at Brighton Financial Planning to announce what was supposed to be two weeks of working from home, and now he doesn’t know if his advisory firm will ever return to being a full-time in-office business.

“Here we are a year later, and I have a feeling we’ll become more of a hybrid operation where we’ll be in the office for those clients who prefer in-person meetings,” said the Flemington, New Jersey-based adviser.

Middleton believes he might have been better prepared than some advisory firms by migrating his business operations toward a virtual cloud and away from a physical server in 2019, before the Covid-19 pandemic turned normal business operations upside down.

“Clients have adapted, and our staff has adapted to virtual interactions,” said Middleton, who even downsized his office space to three office suites that he rents month to month.

“If that turns out to be too much space and I need to adapt, we’ll do it again,” he said.

Across the financial planning industry, advisers are embracing a more virtual form of communicating with clients and colleagues to the point where most folks don’t expect things to ever go back to the old grind of sitting behind a desk in a traditional office environment.

For Allison Masoero, a wealth adviser at Marshall Financial Group, being required to work from home was a dream come true.

“I was one of the first hires right out of college, and I always wanted to work from home, and I was always pushing for work-from-home privileges,” she said.

Masoero, who joined Marshall five years ago, lives in Philadelphia but had been commuting to the office in nearby Doylestown, Pennsylvania, to be alongside a dozen of her colleagues.

“I haven’t been in the office for almost a year and going forward I’ll be working from home about 90% of the time,” she said. “I think this is a major milestone for a lot of RIAs, and I think allowing people to work remotely is a great way to attract younger talent.”

Nicholas Weisert, an adviser at Integra Financial in Denver, Colorado, also sees the upside of some of the ways RIAs have been forced to adapt to the pandemic.

“It’s fair to say we will probably not go back to five days a week in the office, but I do think we’ll have a need for an office for a while to come,” he said.

Integra, as a firm with just four employees, was already heading toward more flexible remote work policies, but Weisert said the pandemic gave everyone a chance to jump right in.

“It was a goal to take us in a mostly paperless direction at least on days when we didn’t have to meet with clients,” he said.

Weisert, who has been in the office about a dozen times over the past year, said he was reluctant prior to the pandemic to ask clients to hold more meetings virtually or over the phone. But it turns out, clients often prefer that over traveling for an in-person meeting.

“What was really interesting in how quickly clients adapted to figuring out the Zoom calls and operating that way,” he said. “I’d never want to get completely away from in-person meetings; however, it is nice to save the commuting time.”

Of course, as Middleton of Brighton Financial explains, there is still time to be wary of the smooth transition to remote work.

“Right now, we’re looking at 2021 as our validation year,” he said. “Last year worked well and everyone was more productive, but there was nothing else to do in 2020 except work. We’ll see what happens when things start opening up.”

This article is part of a series of special reports appearing in the March 15, 2021, edition of InvestmentNews.

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How Covid-19 changed retirement planning

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