The coronavirus crisis has turned lives and habits upside down, virtually overnight, in 2020. All of us, here in the UK and across Europe and the world, are coping and managing the best we can.
What has been the impact at Barwells Wealth Independent Financial Planning in East Sussex? Here, Chief Executive Lee Waters kindly takes time to share his thoughts and experience of the crisis and subsequent lockdown. And please note: the coronavirus crisis has been, of course, very fast-moving. All Lee’s comments were correct and given in good faith at the time of interview [9 April].
How is the crisis disrupting you and your firm?
Initially, the main disruption was getting used to the different dynamic of everybody working separately from each other – and all those conversations you would normally have across a desk, you can’t have now. It is about keeping everybody engaged and in the loop about what is going on. Video chat tools like Zoom and Microsoft Teams are very good, but they can have their limitations, in that people can talk over each other in a meeting without realising. Video chat, I guess, can lack that dynamic where everybody is physically in the same room together.
Will there be a lasting impact, do you think, to the way we work?
I think the crisis has and perhaps will move a lot of the boundaries with regards to people working from home. Firms, perhaps, have been in two camps prior to this: one camp embraced working from home and members of their team hot desking years ago, while the other is more traditional where everyone comes in each morning at 9am and works until 5.30pm when they go home. I think moving forward, firms probably will be more relaxed about people working from home, because they realise the impact isn’t as detrimental as what they thought it might have been.
Can you compare this crisis to anything you have experienced before?
I have worked through dotcom in 2000 and then obviously the credit crunch in 2008, but no, I don’t think they do compare to what is happening right now. People of course are worried about their finances now, but they are more worried about the affect the virus is having on their life overall. The volumes of calls we have received from clients who are concerned has perhaps been no greater than what we received after the UK voted for Brexit in 2016.
What conversations have you been having with clients, worried about their portfolio?
I think the typical conversation we have had is that clients, yes, are a little worried about their investments; then we explain that volatility is a natural part of investing; and their response is, ‘Yes, we knew that, but we just wanted some reassurance that things weren’t any different this time’. That is really the message we have been saying to clients from the outset of this: it is a product of markets and markets are volatile. Now actually is a good time to be buying equity – so do carry on paying in and carry on with your ISA contributions, because markets are significantly lower now than they were three months ago.
Of course, clients who have already experienced a significant market event like 2008 are more aware now than clients who were not invested in 2008. But since 2008 there have been some other, reasonably large sell-offs in equities, so even if you have been only invested for four or five years you have already experienced some volatility towards the end of 2018, for example.
Clients who have perhaps been most affected by this are people who only have been invested for 12 months. They will have seen a pretty good 2019, with maybe double-digit returns, but now, all of a sudden, they are seeing double-digit losses. But again the message really is the same: ‘Investing is long-term. You’re not invested for the next 6-12 months; you are invested for the next 10-20 years.’ It’s just reassuring people.
How is Dynamic Planner helping your firm, at the moment?
The fact that Dynamic Planner is cloud-based is of course extremely helpful, because everybody at your firm can login as though they were in the office. There is no adverse effect, in that sense. It is business as usual. We can still send the risk questionnaires out to clients, for example and overall, I don’t think there has been any disruption to how we use Dynamic Planner – and it has always been fully embedded within our processes.
We have been able to use it to help reassure clients that their risk profile isn’t changing, because the way people answer the risk questionnaires varies depending upon how they are feeling emotionally at that time – and not just about stock markets, but generally. And if you gave someone the risk questionnaires a year ago and you gave them, them today, they would come out more cautiously, because of what has happened in 2020. Again, it is about that conversation and saying to the client, ‘Are external events driving any change in attitude to risk or is it something more fundamental?’
It is about reassuring clients that we remain on the right track, with regards to risk and if there are changes to how much they want to take in future, we can use Dynamic Planner to map where they are now and where they need to be in future with their pensions and investments.