How will smaller firms move forward in such a demanding era?

Three weeks ago, clients and prospects could walk into our offices and sit at our desks. All of that has now changed, and we’ve had to temporarily become a virtual company overnight. 

How quickly have you been able to adapt?

Our firm employs more than 200 people and, at least up until the pandemic hit, we operated physical offices in 17 different cities. On March 12, the morning after the NBA cancelled its games, our leadership gathered to discuss contingency plans for a variety of scenarios. We decided we should be ready, just in case, to arrange for 100% of our employees to work from home.

It was just three days later that we made the decision to cease all in-person client visits. A few days after that, we temporarily closed almost all access to our physical offices.

The logistical requirements and speed that were necessary to transition to virtual operations were astounding. Our technology team was able to procure enough laptops, headsets and other technology so that every one of our team members could work remotely.

After some training, client meetings are proceeding via Zoom (including one with a 91-year-old who was thrilled by the process).

Frankly, we would not have been able to accomplish this were we not part of a larger organization. And having of course once been the founder and principal of a small firm, I find it difficult to imagine how others are managing.

While I have no idea how long it will be before it’s prudent to have in-person visits with clients, we are prepared to operate remotely for as long as we need to. And no matter how all this unfolds, in many ways, our businesses will likely never be the same.

I know from experience that principals of smaller firms are responsible for just about everything, including IT, investment management, human resources, finance, property management and, of course, advising. Yet our rapid pivot was possible because we have a leadership team whose members are professionals with specific areas of expertise.   

I’m also keenly aware that while being smaller might still hold a few advantages during normal times, it’s next to impossible during times like these.

My business partner and I were once convinced autonomy was the only way. Yet, this week, we closed on our eighth merger in the last 2½ years.

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Over the years, we’ve adapted our philosophy of independence and, as we’ve grown, I’ve enjoyed the numerous freedoms that being part of a larger organization provides. (I’ve also witnessed the benefits that being part of a larger team bring to the smaller firms we’ve acquired.)

Never has being a part of a quality larger organization provided as much benefit for the braid of clients, advisers and staff as it does now.

The more things change, the more they stay the same. Whereas, over the last decade, mergers and acquisitions were heavily valuation-driven,a new wave of operationally driven consolidations will almost certainly occur in the coming months and years, as a result of this national emergency.

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Scott Hanson is co-founder of  formerly Hanson McClain Advisors, a fee-based RIA with $8 billion in AUM.

Written by Investors Wallets

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