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Hurricane Irma: advisory firms close offices, activate crisis teams

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Hurricane Irma isn’t expected to hit the United States until the weekend, but major advisory firms aren’t waiting around for the deadly storm to make landfall.

RBC, Ameriprise, Raymond James and Edward Jones unveiled plans to close offices and work remotely while pledging to keep services to clients and advisors in place. Alongside the potential devastation, the storm poses a massive staffing and data challenge to any company in its path.

Irma could cost as much as $130 billion in insured losses if it hits Miami directly at Category 4 strength, according to an analyst for Barclays. Insured and uninsured losses in New Orleans amounted to $160 billion in 2017 dollars after Hurricane Katrina.

Firms with a large presence in the Southeast, particularly in South Florida, are bracing for the worst after Hurricane Harvey’s wrath last month.

“Our associates’ safety is our top priority and we are communicating with all stakeholders to ensure that we and they are prepared,” St. Petersburg-based Raymond James said in an update on its Irma preparations. The firm has put its business continuity plan in motion, preparing to uproot its operations out of the state should the need arise.

Meanwhile, the Miami office of RBC Wealth Management closed Wednesday, and the firm whittled down its Fort Lauderdale and Naples offices to skeleton crews, RBC says.

The rest of RBC’s Florida locations — totaling 91 employees — will be closed by Friday. RBC’s Washington, D.C., office will pitch in for support, since the region’s typical backup, Houston, is still recovering from Hurricane Harvey.

Ameriprise Financial plans to follow the same playbook it employed during Harvey, with a crisis response team standing by to support those who are affected.

The firm, which employs around 1,200 personnel in Florida, Georgia and the Carolinas, says it’s also beefing up technical and communications support to help keep its business operations online. In the event that clients are unable to reach their advisors, Ameriprise will provide backup contacts, withdrawal support and help with insurance and annuity accounts.

Harvey also provided Edward Jones with the grim recent experience of coping with a natural disaster. Some 65 branch offices suffered damage after Harvey made landfall along the Texas coast late last month, according to the regional firm.

The company is working with advisors in the path of the storm to provide guidance and, in some cases, close offices. The company is encouraging clients who need assistance to reach out to a dedicated hotline.

With a similar eye on maintaining client services, Raymond James has the option of shifting some or all of its operations to major technology centers in Denver, Detroit and Memphis. Executives will be watching closely to assess whether to make the shift, the company says.

Evensky & Katz / Foldes Financial, an RIA with offices in Lubbock, Texas, and Coral Gables, Florida, reviewed its emergency plan Wednesday morning and set forth a plan for its South Florida staff to operate remotely for the duration of the storm.

The firm shut down its Miami-area office Thursday, with the intention of keeping it closed through Friday or longer “depending upon the outcome of the storm,” according to a note posted on the firm’s website.

The company’s data, as well as its portfolio management and CRM tools, are web-based, with the information stored safely off-site, according to John Salter, a partner with the firm. The firm has sent out email blasts to clients in addition to posting the message on its website.

For firms with Miami offices, hurricanes are something you’re always protecting against, Salter says. “This isn’t anyone’s first rodeo.”

Additional reporting by Bloomberg News.

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