Earlier this year, with the global pandemic raging and markets in decline, we promised our clients and the industry that we would continue to provide an inside look as to what was happening in the M&A market for financial advisory practices.
I had been looking forward to attending the Investment News Women Advisor Summit, but when an in-person event was no longer an option I was excited when Investment News did the ultimate pivot and changed their all-day onsite Summit to a virtual webcast.
Hotel and meeting rooms were cancelled, and their technology team got to work. The webcast was scheduled for May 14th. Attendees received an email the day before with directions on how to view the event that included a great video introduction from Liz Skinner.
A Digital Experience
I’d been wondering how a conference would work virtually. I didn’t know what to expect and it was easy. The eight sessions were listed on a main page. At the beginning time of the session, you just clicked the session’s “View Now” button, and you were connected. You could see each speaker and it was easy to access their bios, slides, and resources.
There were 600 people attending and speakers from 10 different cities–their largest event ever! Questions could be submitted throughout the sessions and were posted and answered in real time on social media using @investmentnews and #womenadvisersummit2020. Every session had a different topic and a bit of a different format which helped the time fly by.
“Instead of focusing on the circumstances that you cannot change—focus strongly and powerfully on the circumstances that you can.” –Joy Page
One of my favorite movies of all time is Casablanca. This 1942 American romantic drama is revered for its cinematic quality, lead characters, fantastic writing, and pervasive theme song “As Time Goes By.” It is set in a time of war, upheaval, and great uncertainty; in fact, the movie is the perfect foil for the underlying message that we control our fate through direct action. There are many scenes that highlight that message, but Joy Page was a part of one particular scene that foreshadows the ending of the movie and reinforces her thoughts as expressed above.
In this scene, Humphrey Bogart, playing the lead character Rick Blaine, tells the husband of a newly-wed Romanian couple to make a bet on the roulette table at Rick’s Café Américain casino. To summate the plot line, earlier in the movie, Rick had turned down helping the newly-wed wife played by Joy Page citing that he helps no one to avoid the suspicion of the Vichy police.
As the plot line continues, Rick has a change of heart and whispers in the husband’s ear to make a risky bet on the rigged roulette table. With a little help, the husband wins enough money to buy a passage out of Casablanca for himself and his new wife. The action that Rick takes in this scene foreshadows his later actions that free Victor Laszlo and his wife, Ilsa Lund, from the Germans and Vichy Police in Casablanca. The rest is cinematic history.
In times of uncertainty, it is always wise to focus on what you directly control, as pointed out by Ms. Page’s quote. Whether we look at current politics, markets, regulation, news, or the current state of the financial services industry, there have been (and always will be) many events outside of your control as a practice owner that affect your work. How do you deal with this constant noise? Recognize it for what it is and focus on the things you can control with direct action.
Ongoing developments with COVID-19 have prompted a number of advisors to contact us and make sure their death and disability continuity plans are up to date. It’s worth noting that only about 30% of advisors have any type of formal, written death and disability agreement in place. That leaves 70% with little to no protection for their business and clients.
What is Continuity Planning?
Business Continuity Planning is required by most regulatory organizations in the financial services industry. The common objective is preserving client service and asset management continuity in the event of natural disaster, national emergency, or exit of the licensed principal. Death or disability agreements provide a contingency plan that ensures a seamless transfer of control and responsibility for the business in the event of an owner’s unplanned and abrupt departure.
In the wake of COVID-19, we’ve seen many of these operational contingencies enacted by advisory firms nationwide, and that the preparation for a sudden exit is equally as crucial. Highly transmittable and difficult to predict respiratory viruses aside, you never know when an unexpected event will prevent you from performing your role as owner and advisor.
The last few weeks have been eerie. The markets are fluctuating, schools are closed, streets are deserted. The Portland area had a run of 65-degree sunny days followed by two days of snow. Our office is down to a skeleton crew, and the rest of the staff are working from home.
At the beginning of March staying away from the coronavirus seemed as simple as keeping anyone sick at home. Now the ambiguity of who might be carrying the virus has sparked fear of the unknown and driving us to make drastic, unprecedented changes in our lifestyles to protect those at highest risk for severe infection. The situation and preventative measures seem to change daily and vary state to state.
But, this, too, shall pass, and we are all trying to stay productive and maintain perspective on the current situation. Twelve years ago, we experienced a similar market shock. Though the circumstances and drivers are different now, the way the industry adapts and manages investor uncertainty to find our way to the other side of this, as innovators and entrepreneurs, we will have to think similarly.
Be a Resource
The biggest piece of advice I can give to advisors who expect to make it through is this: be a resource.
Be a resource for your clients and their communities. They’re all searching for guidance right now. Even if you can’t give them concrete answers, you can give them context. Nobody can predict exactly what is going to happen in the next few months, but you can support your community by sharing your knowledge of the financial system.
Whole Foods has been a bastion of the organic movement since its founding in 1980. Urbanites flocked to pay top dollar for picture-perfect produce, wines curated by professional wine stewards, and abundant organic, non-GMO options to suit any number of nutritional requirements. However, competition eventually flooded the market. Enter Amazon. The online retail giant acquired Whole Foods in a $13.7B deal that left consumers eager to see price reductions, but concerned that the brand that they have come to trust would suffer for the sake of supply chain efficiency.
As a brand, Whole Foods became synonymous with healthy living, quality, and friendly customer service. How the acquisition will impact brand reputation and consumer trust is yet to be seen. Indeed, this is a concern of every entity when considering a merger or acquisition. In the financial services arena, a strong reputation and client trust is hard won over many years of dedication and commitment to a fine-tuned value proposition. Large or small, the success of a merger or acquisition depends on protecting the relationship capital of the business.