While most businesses were scrambling to deal with the disruption brought on by the Covid crisis, it was smooth sailing for PlanMember Services.
That’s because, having been through one of California’s largest wildfires, the 2018 Thomas Fires, which affected Ventura and Santa Barbara counties, the Carpinteria-based retirement planning business had remote working chops.
“When the Thomas Fires hit, I got the call at 6 o’clock, I went to Best Buy and bought computers. I got a hotel conference room for my staff that was south of the office, and we had a financial center north of the office, and so we had already kind of been positioned not to go to the office,” said Jennifer Brittingham, the firm’s senior vice president of retail.
So, unlike many businesses, Brittingham said when Covid hit, they were ready to deal with remote working. “We didn’t want to ever have to do that again,” she said.
Brittingham and other executives spoke during a panel titled, “The New Normal Workplace,” at the FSI OneVoice conference in Orlando, Fla., yesterday. She explained that PlanMember’s advisors were equipped with virtual capabilities, including e-signatures. For clients, she said the focus was on getting them as much self-service as possible.
“You have to be fluid and flexible,” Brittingham said. Another key thing was data, she said, and not just the collection of data, but what you do with it. Her senior management were mixed on remote work “and being able to prove that people can be as effective at home as they are in the office was super important,” she said.
Companies that had been beefing up technology before the pandemic also had an easier time transitioning to remote work during the crisis. Raymond James among them. Liz Stiles, director of practice management coaching at Raymond James Financial Services, said the firm already had adopted Zoom video conferencing and three associates on her team were already working remotely. So, the switch was not as problematic for direct team, however, the technology took some getting used to for advisors, said Stiles.
But once the advisors got on board and were comfortable with the technology, Stiles said themes began to emerge. “The first was, we need to make virtual valuable,” she said, noting that it was important that the advisors stayed engaged with the staff. Instead of doing webinars, the firm would do meetings where advisors would be on video so that they could participate. Zoom video lines were set up, and there was increased gamification of certain things, so advisors were equipped software tools that allowed them to engage in conversations and get feedback.
Connecting advisors with one another was a priority at Avantax Wealth Management, said Nate Biddick, the firm’s vice president of wealth management growth. He said the firm started a program of regional meetings so that everyone could get together in lieu of large events. It also was important to ensure that the internal team was not left out, he said.
He said twice weekly meetings with every department sharing successes and what they learned proved to be valuable. “We were able to mitigate concerns from employees missing out,” he said.