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Managing a High Touch Business in a Low Touch World

BY: S. BOND PAYNE
Vice Chairman, Corporate Development, Argent Financial Group
Chairman, Argent Trust Company of Oklahoma
Chief Executive Officer, Heritage Wealth Management

When my daughters were young, they would sometimes ask what I did at the office. Trying not to over complicate things, my usual response was, “I protect people and their money.” The girls are young ladies now and live in Dallas. Ellen works for a securities firm and Anna is studying at Southern Methodist University. Both have been living at home with us for the past six weeks which, despite the pandemic, has provided new and enlightening opportunities to discuss the world and how it is changing.

I also have lately found myself thinking about my grandfather, W. T. Payne, wondering what he would say about all of this. Papa graduated from Oklahoma A&M University in 1918 with a degree in chemistry and entered the Great War as a Captain and scientist studying the virus known as Spanish Flu. After the war, he started Helmerich & Payne with Walt Helmerich and then Big Chief Drilling in 1936. Both companies grew to become internationally recognized oilfield service providers despite the Great Depression, World War II, the Cold War and multiple booms and busts. How I would love to hear his perspective on what we are experiencing now. 

The Board of Innovation, a global business design and innovation strategy firm, recently published an article titled “Shifts in the Low Touch Economy” which outlines 10 changes in consumer behavior in a post-COVID-19 era. Some of the shifts are driven by emotion, while others are driven by science. Some will affect business, while others will impact culture. But I am certain that all of us will be impacted for many years to come.   

The Heritage team has been essentially working from home since mid-March. Other than a few logistical challenges and being isolated from each other, we have been able to operate the business and take care of our clients remotely. While we expect this work arrangement to be temporary, we are also preparing for the emotional and cultural shifts that will change the way we operate for years to come. Here are a few examples from the Board of Innovation that we expect to impact Heritage:

  • Heightened loneliness and anxiety
  • Damaged trust in hygiene of people and products
  • Limited contact with older generations
  • Optimized work from home set-ups

The past few months have been challenging for just about everybody, and Heritage is no exception. We miss seeing our clients and professional partners, and especially sharing a meal, handshake or hug. But one of the advantages Heritage has is that it was founded by people who knew there was a better way to serve clients and who were willing to challenge the status quo. I have been so impressed by the attitude our employees have exhibited through all of this, caring for our clients even as they personally dealt with uncertainty and adapted to a new work environment. They exemplify the Heritage spirit to serve other people and our duty to put the client’s best interest first.  

Rest assured that we will always find ways to serve our clients in a manner that reflects the new order of things and makes everyone feel safe. And just as I told my daughters many years ago, we remain committed to protecting you and your money for generations to come.