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Tales from the Frontline – the view from lockdown

When news reports of a new flu-like virus first started coming through at the start of the year I, in combination with the majority, if not all, of the population, had no idea of how drastically life was going to change over the coming months.  So here we are, some six-plus months later, emerging from lockdown into a world that has changed, and trying to get used to “a new normal”.

From a personal perspective the Firman household is still in lockdown since my wife Louise has a medical condition which places her at risk of grave consequences if she were to contract Covid-19.  For obvious reasons I had to be “confined to quarters” too as there was no point in her shielding and remaining inside if I went out and brought the virus home.  It’s been some 16 weeks since Lockdown started (it’s actually 17 for us as we started shunning contact with the outside world a week early) and the good news is that we are still talking (and even to each other) and not too much blood has been shed!  Family have been a Godsend, picking up the odd bit of shopping here and there that Tesco and/or Sainsbury’s either did not have in stock or crushed during delivery.

The one thing that has been crucial to my clients throughout this pandemic is communication and in this respect Sandringham have been excellent.  The staff within Head Office have produced relevant and timely information which I was then able to share with my clients.  This has been incredibly important as clients do need communication / contact / reassurance – you can call it whatever you want – just make sure that you DO it since one proactive phone call can prevent half a dozen reactive calls.

We all know that the market, as the press were want to call it, “fell off a cliff” in March and some client investment portfolios suffered a temporary fall in value (although the majority have now recovered to near previous levels and a lot are higher than before).  During this period of extreme downwards volatility I had only ONE conversation with a client who was considering “getting out” and it went along the lines of this:

C:         “I need to get out.  I’m worried as I’ve already ‘lost’ £75,000 and I want you to sell my investments for me and put it in cash where it’s safer”

DF:       “I can understand that, and I can relate to it as well as my own pension portfolio has dropped by nearly £100,000.  Can I ask you a question?”

C:         “Of course”

DF:       “How much is your house worth?”

C:         “About £400,000, why?

DF:       “Would you sell it as a result of it dropping in value by, say, £75,000?”

C:         “Of course not, I’m not [expletive] stupid! It’s only a fall in value, not a real loss – that would only occur if I sold it.”

DF:       [silence]

C:         “OK Dave, I get your point”

Another lesson I (re-)learned was not to judge people nor underestimate their ability to be flexible.  In line with a lot of Partners I absolutely love the face to face aspect of contact with my clients.  In fact, aside from the ability to help them realise their financial goals it’s probably the best part of my job.  So I was concerned that if I was not able to see them in person then this might create an issue or somehow weaken the relationship.  I was wrong, very wrong indeed.  Clients have taken to the new normal of “Face-to-face” advice like a duck to water – be that via Skype, FaceTime, Zoom or even just the plain old landline phone.  In fact, my first Zoom meeting was with one of my oldest clients (at 83) who pretty much insisted that we use Zoom instead of the phone.  Combined with Wealth Platform and screen sharing it was almost as good as being in his living room – albeit without the biscuits.

This new normal of client meetings has demonstrated to me that what I thought was going to be an issue probably isn’t going to be one at all – and that needs some explaining.  Louise and I are relocating.  We’re moving from our current home in Watford and going to Newquay (yes, the one in Cornwall) which is some 300 miles away.

Although I/we will be coming back to the area at least a couple of times per year for scheduled client reviews in April and October – as well as for time with friends and, especially, family, I had a concern that the Partner / Client relationship might suffer through not being in the same room for meetings.  Based on my ‘lockdown’ experiences to date it does, fortunately, appear to be the case that my fears were unfounded.  Being miles away from clients and hence not being able to be in the same physical room as them for a meeting is not necessarily a relationship killer, but not communicating with them (probably) would be.

So, what are my, to use the current terminology, “takeaways” from the last six months:

  1. Proactive communication with clients, especially during times of market volatility, is a priority and is, without doubt, the most important thing that any adviser worth their salt can do. Indeed, I’d go so far as to say that not only is it the first priority, but it’s also the second, third and fourth priorities as well.
  2. Remaining invested during times of volatility is key – it’s too late to sell once the market has fallen and being out of the market risks missing out on the inevitable recovery which tends to occur soon after.
  3. Technology is incredibly useful in assisting in giving advice to clients, but, in my opinion, it is NOT a replacement for the human to human interaction – that will always be key to ascertaining needs and delivering effective and suitable advice.
  4. Sometimes the biggest fans and exponents of technology can come from the most unlikely sources.
  5. My wife is incredibly tolerant of me.

Stay safe and observe social distancing.  Keep calm and stay invested.


David Firman, Founding Partner


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