All financial services firms are required to have a disaster plan in place, but few expected anything like the coronavirus pandemic. In a few short weeks in March, the home office of Cetera Financial Group managed to go from having 10% of their employees operate virtually to 90%, according to CEO Adam Antoniades.

In a wide-ranging interview earlier this week, Antoniades discussed how his independent broker-dealer (IBD) network was forced to react quickly to what is turning out to be the biggest economic disaster of most Americans’ lifetimes.

Advisors at Cetera were fast to adjust for several reasons, Antoniades said. “Independent advisors got back to work faster than wirehouse advisors,” he said. “Our [advisors] have bills to pay, so they realize they have to drive revenues."

The pandemic proved to be a reset for the executives at headquarters as well as its reps. “These markets are times when our advisors bring reason and rational thinking at a time when clients can be irrational,” Antoniades said. “People will think about their wealth in a more holistic way.”

It’s also a propitious time for advisors to increase their market share, as turbulence tends to put money in motion. That can entail capturing more assets from existing clients as well as finding new ones.

The IBD network also provided reps with a resiliency pack, which included advice on how advisors could access PPP loans. Though the information was designed for advisors, it was client-ready. If a business-owner client wanted a PPP loan, the advisor could use the pack to help them.

Cetera is also offering tools that prevent clients from falling victim to crimes like identity theft and other forms of fraud that appear to be proliferating over the last months. Some are targeting small business owners.

Antoniades would not confirm or deny reports that Cetera was in talks to buy another independent broker-dealer. However, he did say that a number of smaller IBDs were looking to “throw in the towel” with Reg BI looming and the pandemic increasing the pressure on all firms to step up their technology game.

Genstar, the private equity firm that acquired Cetera for $1.7 billion in September 2018, is willing to provide more equity if it wants to make another acquisition, he added. While Cetera has more than $1 billion in debt outstanding, Antoniades said much of it is indexed to interest rates, so the IBD network’s cost of capital has declined. The variable-rate debt also allowed Cetera to sell covenant-lite bonds with fewer restrictions.

Many investors suddenly are asking what world the stock market is living in. While equities have recovered spectacularly from their March lows, Antoniades said he thought there was a reasonable likelihood that the current rally would stall out and markets would decline again.

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