Confronting a crisis is something every generation has had to do as long as mankind has existed. Whether it was the Great Depression about 90 years ago or the oil crisis and inflation surge 47 years ago, each crisis fundamentally changes our collective behavior.
A decade ago, we dealt with the real estate collapse and ensuing banking crisis. That led to new rules for individuals borrowing money and changed the ways in which big banks can operate. An entire generation became more conscious about personal debt. Prior to that we had the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, which altered our perception of safety and fundamentally changed how we travel, adding precautionary screenings around the world. That followed the bursting of the dot-com bubble, which refocused everyone on valuations, and the inherent risks of buying stocks.
There will always be a new crisis. We need to understand how each one might affect our behavior going forward, so we can adapt to a new world.
The global time-out
We have never seen a circumstance in which almost all of the world’s population voluntarily distances itself and quarantines at home in the span of a few weeks. The impact on our future behavior, beyond the health crisis, is surely going to be far-reaching and long-lasting.
None of us will forget this period in our collective history — not just because we were cooped up in our homes, but because every person on the planet had a shared and unified concern. It also will likely be remembered as a time when society made some important fundamental shifts that were never reversed. As advisers, we must learn more about our clients and adapt how we work in this new world.
The Great Reset in priorities
Our struggle is not limited to balancing our work with our responsibilities at home. Think of what has happened to our free time. No movie theaters, no sports, no gyms, no concerts, no dinners out, no travel of any kind. We’ve made health and safety our top priorities, yes, but we have also had time to think about what matters to us and question the choices we are making in broader terms.
It’s safe to assume that every one of your clients is rethinking their priorities, too. When life returns to some semblance of normal, the indispensable adviser will take this opportunity to ask their clients how this crisis affected them, talking about how priorities might have shifted. Most of your clients need to process and articulate how they think about their futures. Spend time on priorities before you get into their financial plan. Priorities are the intentions and purpose behind every goal, and they are what really matters.
Asking guiding questions can help you connect and also help you to do your job better. Some examples: Has anything become more important for you now that we have been through this crisis? What did you learn about yourself during this period? What has changed in how you think about the future? Get beyond the money. People want you to understand them and help them to make financial choices that align with their redefined priorities.
The reset of the safety net
We all know it’s important to have savings in place for a rainy day, but few of us envisioned this kind of circumstance. Beyond the rush to stockpile essential goods (toilet paper, anyone?), we’re all going to think differently about how much is enough to have if everything stops. Risks we never imagined are now real, and that will lead individuals to seek out as much information as they can about the volatility and uncertainties in their lives. Just as new financial models will have to include black swans of this nature, so too will clients need to brace for more unexpected events like this. We’ll need to adjust our plans to reflect our clients’ more conservative approach to the future.
The reset of human interaction
Social distancing has given everyone in the country a crash course in video conferencing and social media. While it might have been true two months ago that your older clients weren’t comfortable with technology, that’s certainly not true now. No matter how long physical distancing lasts, people will want more on-demand, video-based interaction. Whether it’s telemedicine or tele-advising, how we interact with clients is going to be different. Do your systems, structure and the tools you use with your clients reflect that future?
Into a COVID-free future
This global time-out has allowed swans to once again swim in the canals of Venice. I can see Catalina clearly from my office window without any of the southern California smog hazing the view. Everyone is being a little kinder and more caring as we find our way through this situation. Some good will come out of this pandemic once we get through it.
This Great Reset is a reminder that you need to have a playbook of how to serve clients effectively in any emergency. Making disciplined, rational choices is hardest when such choices are needed most. Being there to advise in a caring, personal way in times like these makes you indispensable to your clients and your team.
Joe Duran is head of . Follow him at