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Wealth Advisement Could Change Due to Coronavirus

Originally published on Kiplinger.com on April 1, 2020

Trust Counsel, Argent Trust Company | (502) 569-7400

Timothy Barrett

I’ve been working from home in recent days, since social distancing is a big part of my firm’s new policy to protect us and our clients from exposure to the coronavirus. The client projects I have already begun to implement are surprisingly unimpaired by my location and lack of access to paper files and a well-equipped resource room.

My planning services, including financial planning, are mostly on hold until my clients find a reliable new normal from which to springboard. My remaining clients have been calling mostly to express an interest in additional investment allocations in stocks. But almost all of them are reaching out or responding positively to my engagement for simple social interaction, reassurance and understanding.

With all levels of government advising, and sometimes ordering, closings and cancellations of almost every possible human encounter, we are experiencing an unsettling halt of normal interactions. This will change the delivery of wealth advisory services, and something important may get lost in the translation.

The Importance of Going Local

Most of my clients live within 25 miles of my office, and others are within a two-hour drive. Only a small number would require a two-hour flight or more to visit. My client book already limits most periodic visits to monthly, quarterly or annual events, outside of project implementation. And my clients, who lead busy lives, are used to conference calls, online access to performance numbers, forms and proposals and email conversations. Nonetheless, they certainly appreciate the personal touch of in-office or in-home meetings.

Today’s new normal may actually level the playing field for remote wealth advisory firms that have historically relied on a network of online trading and financial analysis to build their advisory business. If your primary wealth adviser no longer sees you in person, does it really matter if he/she sits five minutes from you or five states away? I’m here to say that yes, it does matter.

Why Having a Local Adviser Matters

My clients are subject to both national and local economic, political, social and financial factors. Because I am subject to most of the same factors, my understanding of and reaction to my clients’ circumstances amounts to a kind of shorthand intuition compared with out-of-state advisers. In my town, people still ask where you went to high school to establish base assumptions or find instant commonality. Local knowledge of where our community came from and how it got here is important to projecting where it is heading.

Ethically, people still expect more from members of their own community. After all, we owe a lot for our development and success to our community. We may have been educated somewhere else (not me, actually), but our community involvement and local service establishes a connectivity that assures our clients that I am both credible and reliable. After all, as the saying goes, you know where I live. Accountability is a clear advantage to the local adviser.

Finally, interdependency. This is the assumption that we are all in this together — not just as to the current coronavirus calamity, the market correction or the economic downturn, but all of it. My clients and I, our entire community, is in this together. We all have an equal stake in our local business operations, restaurants, entertainment, community events, local sports, education, libraries, police, fire and other emergency responders, and in the safety and success of our spiritual centers, parks, roads and neighborhoods.

This community interaction is essential to our common good. We have always valued this the most in all our relationships. We will find our way together. You can rely on me and I will rely on you.

Timothy Barrett is a senior vice president and trust counsel with Argent Trust Company. Timothy is a graduate of the Louis D. Brandeis School of Law, 2016 Bingham Fellow, a board member of the Metro Louisville Estate Planning Council, and is a member of the Louisville, Kentucky and Indiana Bar Associations, and the University of Kentucky Estate Planning Institute Program Planning Committee.