By Brad Elman, CLU, ChSNC
Disruption and change are two of the most enduring constants in the financial services industry. COVID-19 represents an extreme example of this, but other challenges like recessions, market crashes and geopolitical events lurk just around the corner.
Financial professionals must prepare for sudden shifts that could come in a year – or even tomorrow. By solidifying procedures to tackle crises, we can guide our practices and clients through the next storm, whenever it arrives.
Step One: How is the crisis affecting “me” the financial professional?
The first impact of a crisis is disorientation. We must take the time to acknowledge and validate our own situation. It is the classic airline phrase, “put on your own oxygen mask first before helping others.”
How do we do this? Triage and prioritize. In the first weeks of the COVID-19 crisis we answered the following:
• How will we have client meetings?
• How will complete insurance applications?
• Will we still need paramedical exams?
Between Zoom and the industry’s response, we realized that we were still very much in business. Furthermore, these responses have increased our efficiency, and would likely have taken longer to become generally accepted practices were it not for the pandemic.
Step Two: How is the crisis affecting our clients and how can we help?
With our own “oxygen mask” firmly in place, the next question is how the crisis is impacting our clients and whether there is something unique we can do to help them. This is really where the value lies.
Clients at the beginning of the crisis also needed to triage and prioritize. For the most part this did not include purchasing insurance. We asked them what they needed and how we could help and here is how we responded:
• I am not a banker, but we do a lot of corporate insurance work and became a conduit of information on the PPP loans for our clients.
• I am not an HR consultant, but we do employee benefits, and became a conduit of information on HR issues affecting our clients.
I am financial representative, and crisis or not, my clients still need me. Since Covid-19 began my office has helped three clients with disability claims and delivered two group life death claims, a key person life death claim, and a personal life death claim.
And, once clients got over the disorientation, they were ready to do long-term planning again. We continue to help new clients create strong financial plans, and we need to be there for them today and every day after.
Step Three: Reflect, revise, and find the “silver linings”
Financial professionals are problem-solvers. Whether client work, professional advancement or business growth, our work involves taking in information to fix problems, overcome obstacles and achieve goals. Addressing a crisis comes with much higher stakes, but at the end of the day, it is simply a problem to solve.
Five months into the crisis, we are asking ourselves, “what did we handle well? What would we change next time, and what changes in our practice brought on by the pandemic will we continue? The “silver linings” for me are both personal and professional.
I will continue to use Zoom going forward in addition to face-to-face meetings. Zoom saves me a considerable amount of time versus the time I would spend in the car driving to see a client. It will not replace all meetings, but it will likely replace all phone calls.
Another silver lining is the extra time I have had with my family. Post-pandemic, I will use the time savings from using Zoom versus driving to a client for more time with my family. I take walks during the day, sleep a bit more and have met a lot more of my neighbors. All good things!
Change never stops in financial services, and by establishing a flexible, yet sturdy process to take on the logistical, emotional and financial aspects of emergency situations, financial professionals can remain ready for whatever comes over the span of their career.
About the Author
Brad Elman, CLU, ChSNC is a financial representative of The Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Company, Milwaukee, WI, and a 27-year MDRT Qualifying Member with 17 Court of the Table qualifications. Brad has spoken globally on insurance best practices and writes regularly for our industry trade journals. Brad’s true passion is volunteering in his community, spending the bulk of his time supporting causes that serve children and adults with special needs.