We all know that the Covid-19 pandemic has caused an unexpected upheaval in our profession. But the changes we’ve all experienced during the past three months provide many firms an opportunity to assess their performance and re-evaluate their long-term growth strategy in light of the accelerated changes we are about to continue to experience.

Firms that built a solid business infrastructure, with a sound management team and smart investments in technology, have likely weathered the crisis well. They’ve been able to seamlessly work remotely, and their advisors have been able to focus on helping their clients.

Firms without a robust infrastructure may not have fared as well. Many of them, some even managing over $1 billion in assets, will need to decide whether they will now make those investments. If they cannot or will not in time, they should consider affiliating with firms that have the necessary infrastructure, as 2020 has demonstrated that scale is important for future survival and success. Most firms in our industry are going to have to accelerate their infrastructure investments or suffer because they can’t catch up. But the cybersecurity issues alone should give firms pause about our new flexible working environments.

Choosing The Right Path
I’ve been privileged to have provided career coaching and counsel to dozens of advisors and planners over my 30-year career. One of my rules of thumb is to encourage them, every three to five years, and certainly at career inflection points, to consider whether they are on the right career path.

They might already be on a certain path, but is it the one getting them where they ultimately want to go? And in the time frame that works for them? Many wealth management and financial planning firms need to periodically ask themselves these questions.

When I compare our current experience to the 2008-2009 financial crisis, the differences are striking. During the financial crisis, we employed 22 people, and we were pushed to our limits to serve our clients when they needed us most—while also managing our business operations. In 2020, we have more than 80 people, and we continued to operate smoothly even with the remote requirements of the Covid-19 lockdown. Our advisors were able to focus even more of their time on our clients’ needs.

The Difference? The Path We Chose
What made the difference? In 2008, all our advisors, myself included, had more than one job. Most firms are built with advisors—and particularly first-generation advisors—wearing multiple hats. We are advisor and CEO, advisor and CIO, advisor and CFO … take your pick. The path we chose following the Great Recession, however, allowed us to have a different experience this time.

We chose to methodically invest in the infrastructure necessary to support a strategy of both organic and inorganic growth during the past decade. First, we made a bold decision 13 years ago to develop a succession plan that should last across generations of partners. As a result, we now have a new management team largely composed of people in their early 40s who have substantial ownership in the firm.

At the same time, we looked for opportunities for smart inorganic growth. In 2017, we merged with a Charlotte, N.C.-based RIA and formed one of the largest RIA firms in the Southeast. This required us to develop a first-class management team. In the past three years, we’ve added a chief operating officer, a chief financial officer and a chief compliance officer, as well as directors of marketing, human resources and information technology. Each of these leaders is supported by a complement of appropriate staff.

This investment has served us well during the pandemic. Our human resources team was vitally important in helping us make the overnight transition to work from home. Our information technology team didn’t skip a beat, either (though they certainly held their breath for a few seconds!)

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