Over the course of a normal week, Beth Norman usually met with 10 clients in person. Most came to her office, but she was also happy to meet them for coffee or make an occasional house call.
But in mid-March, when states across the U.S. implemented stay-at-home orders to help stem the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, those face-to-face meetings came to a screeching halt. The markets, meanwhile, were sent into a steep decline, making the advice and guidance provided by people like Norman, an advisor in RBC Wealth Management's Madison, Wisconsin branch, even more critical.
To meet that need, advisors at RBC Wealth Management have found new and creative ways over the last several months to connect with and provide a steadying presence for their clients during a difficult time. And that's what the client-advisor relationship is all about, says Tom Sagissor, president of RBC Wealth Management-U.S.
“We can't have those important face-to-face interactions right now, and that's a challenge," Sagissor says. “But the human element of our business is still shining through thanks to the many thoughtful ways that our advisors have cared for, and continue to care for, their clients."
Despite being unable to meet clients in person, advisors like Beth Norman, pictured in her home office, are finding creative ways to support their clients during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Finding time to talk
Maintaining strong ties with clients and fostering frequent and open communication is a hallmark of how RBC Wealth Management's advisors do business. To foster those connections in a world where in-person meetings aren't possible, advisors are finding other ways to show clients they care and to connect with them as well.
In some cases, advisors have bought their clients a meal delivery from a local restaurant and then connected over the phone or via video call. John McIntyre, a financial advisor in RBC Wealth Management's Houston, Texas branch, says he's now sending clients a menu to order from, and then schedules phone conferences with them while they're eating. It's like a virtual lunch.
“We can't visit people in person right now," McIntyre says, “but we can still connect with them. That goes a long way."
Norman and her colleagues in the Madison branch have also scheduled virtual "meal" meetings with clients.
“Everyone's feeling isolated right now, so anything you can do to reach out and spend some time talking, clients are appreciative of that," Norman says.
Reaching out to clients
Beyond just staying in touch, advisors are also working to raise their clients' spirits during this difficult time by sending things like chocolate or games for the family. Marina Galli, an advisor in Washington, D.C., and Matt Chester, an advisor in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, both sent their respective clients puzzles.
Galli tried to tailor her puzzles specifically for each recipient. For a client who she knew enjoyed art, she sent a puzzle of a Van Gogh painting, and for a client who had just moved to a new house, she created a custom puzzle using a picture of his new home.
"These are stressful times, so I just wanted to provide any kind of a distraction I could to show clients we're thinking of them," Galli says.
Chester, meanwhile, bought 100 puzzles for clients from the local Norman Rockwell Museum, which he knew was struggling because of the Massachusetts stay-at-home order.
"It made sense to send something locally, that reflects the area and has a calming effect," Chester says, referring to the peaceful, idyllic settings found in many of Rockwell's paintings.
"That small-town, community feel in his paintings is something a lot of us are feeling right now," he adds. "We have to rely on the things around us and the people around us to get through the day."
RBC Wealth Management Financial Advisor Matt Chester bought 100 Norman Rockwell puzzles to send to clients.
In Baltimore, Maryland, Branch Director Beth Rosenwald and her team send weekly emails to their clients that touch on important topics like market conditions, but also offer some levity. One recent email, for example, included pictures of the team with their pets, except for Rosenwald, who doesn't have a pet and shared a picture of herself with a houseplant (named Mr. Plant) instead.
“It's OK to show your human side, because everyone is feeling a little vulnerable right now," Rosenwald says.
For Lauren Johnson, an advisor in the firm's Frisco, Texas branch, it was important to provide resources to her older clients, who might be the most vulnerable to COVID-19, to help them stay home as much as possible. In addition to sending a note to those clients with links and information about local grocery delivery options, she and her teammates regularly call all clients older than 50 to make sure they're doing OK.
“We just wanted to reach out in a meaningful way that doesn't have anything to do with the markets," Johnson says. “We wanted to be more than just financial advisors."