The coronavirus crisis has turned lives and habits upside down, almost overnight, in 2020. All of us, across the UK and globally are coping and managing the best we can.

From 17 March in the UK, huge numbers of us, following government advice, began working from home indefinitely, against the broader backdrop of being increasingly told to avoid trips outside and all contact with others through social distancing.

The magnitude of everything, which has happened, may only hit us further down the line. More immediately, life and work, must go on. There is some reassurance, on one level, that we are all in a similar boat, right now – sharing and experiencing the same circumstances and issues.

What has been the impact on one financial advice firm, Plan4Life in Lancashire? Here, financial adviser Lee Whiteside kindly takes the time to speak and share his thoughts and experience. And please note: the ongoing 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 [24 March].

How is the current crisis disrupting you and your business?

Timescales of providers – trying to get information from them – have gone through the roof, but you can expect that at the moment, with people off work sick or working from home. On top of that, you can say this will inevitably lead to a loss of business throughout the industry, as confidence reduces. Equally, some investors who are a bit more bullish, may say it’s a good time to get into markets.

Have you ever experienced anything like this before?

I was around in 2008 during the financial crash and I was around in 2016 when the UK voted for Brexit, so, yes, we’ve seen things like this before, although not this bad. This current crisis is, of course, concerning. Personally, I don’t think you can liken this to 2008, because that was systemic risk in the financial system. This isn’t – it’s a black swan which has come completely out of the blue. No-one foresaw this.

I actually think the only thing you can compare this to is 9/11, which was terrible. It spooks people – and I think the coronavirus has spooked people more because of the greater human cost and impact. What are people thinking? ‘Am I going to be alright? Are my friends and family going to be alright?’

On top of that, many are having to self-isolate. I think the biggest question spooking markets right now is, ‘How long is this going to go on for?’ – particularly as so many businesses are having to close so suddenly. But that’s the way it has to be, at the minute.

I look at the VIX market volatility index and the higher it is, the more worrying it is. If you look at the last month and 16 March, that hit saw it reach a high of 82.69, which is phenomenal. A year ago, it was 14 – put it that way. But on 24 March it was back down to 55.5, so it is coming down a little and it’s positive when you speak to fund managers and they say, ‘Yes, we are seeing opportunities again and we are starting to reinvest into equities’. If that is the case, we can start to feel more positive.

What conversations have you been having with your clients, worried about their portfolio?

Clients, of course, are worried at the moment. We’re seeing pretty significant losses, even in quite low risk portfolios. There’s no point avoiding client phone calls. It’s about reiterating messages and revisiting client objectives. This is about medium to long-term investment and markets will recover. We don’t know when that will be – three months or three years? But historically they do.

In short with clients, it’s a reassurance piece as much as anything.

Clients who are most worried right now are people in drawdown taking income from their portfolio. For people in that situation, it might be a case of looking at it again and having a conversation saying, ‘You might want to readjust expectations of the level of income you want to take from your portfolio’. But overall people realise the situation we are in. I think they want to pick the phone up and hear your voice saying, ‘Look, don’t do anything. The best thing is to just hold steady. Let’s not sell out – that’s the worst thing we can do’. At the end of the day, that’s what people pay advisers for.

How is Dynamic Planner helping your firm, at the moment?

I’ve just completed my first meeting with a new client I had never met before, by video conference this morning. I used Zoom. You can share documents with the client and do pretty much everything you can face-to-face, except get a physical signature, of course. I think we just have to adapt, don’t we? We haven’t got a choice at the moment.

I risk profiled the client and have done everything I wanted with her, and at the point of sale – a full fact-find; we talked about pension switches; and I will quickly follow up with a recommendation to move an old pension she has got.

It’s actually easier, in one way and a really good of working, and you do start to think, ‘Hang on a minute, why don’t I run my business like this all the time?’ I have another meeting with a client tonight and he’s a young guy, an accountant in his 30s, and you start to think that this might be the way we do business now. All of this might revolutionise firms like mine.

Ordinarily, it might have taken me an hour to drive to the client’s home; the meeting would have lasted an hour; and then it would have taken me an hour to drive back to the office. That’s three hours, whereas I’ve done everything remotely with her, using Zoom and Dynamic Planner, in 45 minutes.

Older clients, of course, might well prefer to see you face-to-face and look into the whites of your eyes, so to speak. Of course, younger people might feel like that too. But if you are technologically minded, this is something to seriously think about. I only started trying Zoom at 8.30am in the morning and at 10am I’ve just completed my first video conference with a client.

When things do go back to normal, I definitely need to consider if this is a new process I need to integrate into my business more permanently.


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