When managing investors’ financial lives through a major storm like Hurricane Irene, keeping in touch and relying on a network of offices was key to helping advisors and their clients pull through.

The principals and staff at Modera Wealth Management, based in Westwood, N.J, prepared for the driving wind and dousing rain that Hurricane and Tropical Storm Irene brought through the state over the weekend.

But it was the firm’s second regional office in Boston that helped it navigate some unavoidable hiccups to getting up and running again on Monday morning.

The firm houses its server in a room secured with a magnetic strip accessible with a keychain fob. Normally that keeps client information exclusively in the correct hands at the firm. The trouble was that the town experienced intermittent power failures as PSE&G hurried to restore service to the neighborhood and, making matters worse, a backup generator failed.

The unfortunate combination of events locked management and staff out of critical information when the firm opened for business on Monday.

“We’re going to make sure that we eliminate the magnetic strip that kicks into action when the power goes down,” Mark Willoughby, a Modera Wealth Management Principal said in a telephone interview on Monday. The office closed on Monday afternoon to allow the servers to rest as utility workers got the area back online for good.

Most of the firm’s clients have their wealth managers’ cell phone numbers, Willoughby said. It also helped that Modera Wealth has an office in Boston. The staff there stood ready to relay important questions to the advisors in New Jersey, if necessary. Should the firm need to access money or place trades for clients, Willoughby said, it would contact the custodians directly.

All told, Irene impacted more than eight states on the East Coast, dumping up to 16 inches of rain as it moved from North Carolina to Vermont, according to NASA. The storm system swelled rivers, snapped and uprooted trees, disrupted power, and tested some advisors’ business continuity plans. 

The management at the Morristown Financial Group, also in New Jersey, has several advisors in satellite offices throughout New Jersey and Connecticut, states significantly affected by the storm.

One practice is located near Westport, Conn., where power failures forced one advisor to close her regular office and work from home, said James Sullivan, a partner at Morristown Financial Group. The office in Morristown stood ready to place trades for her office, if necessary, he said.

Running a regional practice with a network of smaller offices helps Morristown Financial provide workspace to advisors should it need to put a contingency plan into action, Sullivan said.

“Were this a long-term situation, we would be able to match up advisors for some space-sharing arrangements,” he said. “That would be for the advisors to work out between themselves, but they would know that they are not someone out on their own.” 

As for what lessons clients might glean from the latest storm, Frank Nargentino, a registered representative of JHS Capital Advisors in Plainview, N.Y., said clients should know what insurance coverage they have well ahead of an event like last weekend’s.

In some cases, clients wondered whether they should check with their property and casualty insurance carriers about what their deductibles might be after Irene left the area. It is also wise, Nargentino said, for advisors to tell clients to have six months’ worth of cash reserves on hand to cover deductibles incurred from storm damage.

To learn more about tips and contingency plans for financial advisors and firms, please check out Financial Planning’s interactive slideshow for a preparedness checklist so you know what you and your firm can do ahead of the next major storm or potentially disruptive event.



Register or login for access to this item and much more

All Financial Planning content is archived after seven days.

Community members receive:
  • All recent and archived articles
  • Conference offers and updates
  • A full menu of enewsletter options
  • Web seminars, white papers, ebooks

Don't have an account? Register for Free Unlimited Access