It was still dark outside when, on a recent October morning, I suddenly woke to the smell of smoke. In my half-asleep daze, I thought for a second that I was back on a campsite. Had I forgotten to fully extinguish my fire?

Then my heart dropped.

I was at home in Kentfield, California, safely in bed. What I smelled were the effects of wildfires more than 30 miles away. At that moment, I quickly realized my clients, friends and colleagues were at risk and would surely be impacted in some way.

It was hard for me to fall back asleep that morning, and after tossing and turning, I decided to head into work early. When I arrived, I found my team ready to respond to the crisis. I asked them to quickly examine their client rosters to identify who might be most at risk. Thanks to the Redtail CRM software we use, I had my answer in under 15 minutes.

We used the program to search for clients in zip codes affected by the wildfires, and within the hour, we reached all 47 of those local clients. Some were panicked. Some remained calm. All were grateful we had called.

“Clients who need to move quickly to protect their family and most prized possessions, shouldn’t have have to worry about digging out old tax returns or estate plans,” writes Eric Aanes, president of Titus Wealth Management.
“Clients who need to move quickly to protect their family and most prized possessions, shouldn’t have have to worry about digging out old tax returns or estate plans,” writes Eric Aanes, president of Titus Wealth Management.
Wildfires torch a California hillside
Wildfires torch a California hillside Bloomberg News

In that moment, we wanted to accomplish two things. First, we needed to make sure every client was safe. Second, we wanted to reassure them that their financial and trust documents were secure in our electronic files.

Clients who need to move quickly to protect their family and most prized possessions, shouldn’t have to worry about digging out old tax returns or estate plans. That’s one way good software comes in handy. Redtail provided a comprehensive overview of the documents we were storing.

It was an incredible testament to how certain tech tools can revolutionize a practice.

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“Within the hour, we reached all 47 of our local clients. Some were panicked. Some remained calm. All were grateful we had called.”

That morning, we were relieved to discover that most of our clients had already evacuated. One client, however, didn’t have anywhere to go as the fire was closing in. Her advisor had an extra room available and invited her to stay without hesitation.

Eric Aanes woke up to find ash from nearby wildfires on the windshield of his car.
Eric Aanes woke up to find ash from nearby wildfires on the windshield of his car.

We’re pleased to report that all of our clients who were displaced by the fires are back in their homes. Only one family experienced a total loss on a second home in Napa.

Now, as we enter the recovery phase, we are relying on technology to guide our follow-up efforts. We are using software to keep track of client updates and track those who may need our assistance in managing post-disaster money management tasks.

As the fires raged on, it was a scary situation for everyone in the community. There was no way to tell how many people would be impacted and to what extent.

Our job as advisors is to support our clients and be their partner through life’s big events. Helping them through the devastation of the wildfire was no different. The fact that we were able to check in with all of our local clients within two hours is tremendous. We wouldn’t have been able to do it without the power of technology and a supportive team.