Escape from Colditz 

By Dundak - Own work, CC BY-SA 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=561321
Colditz Castle1

No doubt all of us have approached lockdown with quite different perspectives.  For some, it has been a kind of prison, from which the prospect of release brings considerable relief.  For others, perhaps lockdown has been something akin to a spell in a monastery, providing an opportunity for the contemplation of the ineffable.  My guess is that most of us have found ourselves seeing both perspectives at different times, depending upon our mood.

Either way, as we have now entered the tenth week of lockdown, and are contemplating in at least some parts of the UK a kind of staged, tentative relaxation of restrictions, it seems appropriate to think about what life 'After Coronavirus' (AC, contrasts with BC) might look like for IFA firms.  As some Members may be aware, I'm a Trustee of a small Cambridge-based charity, and we've spent the last few weeks anticipating what release from lockdown may require from us, and how we will be able to re-launch effectively, especially if there are still operational constraints in place.  Clearly, that's going to involve the more mundane logistical elements, such as distancing, perspex screens, face-masks, distancing, hand-sanitiser and the like - but it helps to think also about the kinds of operational decisions which will enable our advisory businesses to flourish, and not simply limp ineffectually out of quarantine.

So, here's a few thoughts which may help:

  • According to recent news headlines, SJP has suddenly 'discovered' the benefits of remote video-conferencing, having previously espoused face-to-face advice in an unequivocal way.  Clearly, in C-19 world, the unremitting reliance on the old face-to-face model was never going to be a huge success - but the point is that the kinds of facility such as 'Zoom' (or Microsoft Teams, Google Hangouts and others) have been around for years, and the savvy advisers have been using such tools wherever they are appropriate.  It's not a binary choice - advisers with a commitment to TCF are going to be finding approaches that work best for their clients, and also for themselves.  One might well argue that, once the doors of Colditz are unlocked, and we are allowed out, blinking in the sunshine, that many of our clients will be so starved of human contact, that there is a benefit in emphasising the face-to-face model where that is appropriate;
  • Many or most of us have found that our remote systems have allowed us to get essential work done, just as effectively, as if we had been working from offices.  Indeed, some Members have found themselves getting a whole lot more done than was ever possible in the office.  This is suggestive that there are at least some lessons that we should be learning from this whole exercise.  There has been hopeful news that there will be an integration of Zoom into ValidPath's operational practice-management system, and that will be an enormous benefit in terms of retaining the records of client interactions managed remotely - but even without that, we have the robust functionality of Portal which is currently being rolled out to interested Member Firms, and which will support essential service delivery to remote clients;
  • COVID-19 has made all of us realise that we can be 'vulnerable'.  Previously, our appreciation of vulnerability may have been limited to a consideration of our responsibilities under TCF, as we think of the particular needs of a given category of customer.  An understanding of our common vulnerability may help influence both the design and the deployment of our services;
  • COVID-19 has also made us all think about risk differently.  Previously, the handling of a supermarket trolly did not seem to us to be the kind of thing which held life-threatening consequences, but now we see that, under certain sets of circumstances, the connections that we took for granted do have implications.  This will have implications for the kinds of investment solution we use for clients -  the non-correlation of asset-classes might become more of a point of emphasis.  Or the need for the kind of interim protections, designed to handle the perfectly valid 'what if?' questions that clients may have in relation to the potential non-achievement of their goals in a world which can be thrown into chaos by a tiny fragment of DNA.  Indeed, encouraging our clients to ask their 'what if?' questions places ValidPath Members in a position of considerable authority;
  • COVID-19 has also taught us the value of paying for services.  When, for instance, you can't go to the supermarket, then the supermarket must come to you.  Paying the man to deliver your groceries to your front door has now become second-nature to many of us - and, intriguingly, a host of local businesses (farmers markets and cooperatives, millers, vegetable-growers - even breweries) have very quickly cottoned on to this.  Where there is a service which delivers real value, and fills a niche or demand, then customer are willing to pay for it.  The problem with so many intermediary firms, historically, is that they've made their proposition so much about the products, that customers can be forgiven for wondering why it is worth paying them.  None of us want grudging, suspicious and reluctant clients, so it is incumbent upon us to define our proposition in such a way that it clearly satisfies the 'value' question;
  • During the pandemic, one of the widespread features has been the level of appreciation expressed for our NHS, something that seems entirely appropriate.  There is a huge practical benefit wrapped up in the simple articulation of that word 'thanks', and I have wondered therefore if it would be constructive for Advisers to find practical ways of expressing our appreciation to our clients for their patience and ongoing support during a period when, at times, delivering a timely service has not been without its problems.  There is, by the way, an excellent little book on this subject by Robert A. Emmons.
And, finally, it's worth observing that isolation may be a necessary evil forced upon us by the risks associated with C-19, but it's not a good way to live.  Human beings are designed for community, and from that perspective it has been encouraging to see the way in which ValidPath Members are using the Forums on this site to interact and help each other out on practical questions.  Thanks everyone for your participation in this, it is much appreciated.

 

Kevin Moss, 29/05/2020