A surprise gift during a stock market meltdown

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In mid-March, I found a surprise Amazon package on my New Jersey doorstep. I’d been working from home to obey shelter-in-place orders and hadn’t ordered anything. The envelope rattled as I swabbed it with sanitizing wipes. When I ripped it open, a colorful puzzle emerged, along with a note: “Hi guys, here’s a little something to take your mind off things for awhile. Brighter days ahead!”

A present meant to ease minds during the coronavirus-caused market collapse.

It was from my financial planner.

“We wanted clients to focus on spending quality time with their families and divert attention from the negative news,” my advisor tells me. The response? “Awesome,” he says. “A majority of clients made a point of calling us on the day it was received just to say ‘thank you for thinking of us.’”

His gift is one of many innovative ways planners have engaged with clients as the coronavirus pandemic upends markets, retirement plans, careers and peace of mind. After I tweeted a photo of my puzzle gift, another advisor responded in a tweet: “We have a great bakery that we love — we are having homemade pies sent to our people. They’ll arrive this week.”

Even digital platforms are getting in on the outreach act — with varying effectiveness. Financial Planning senior editor Tobias Salinger tells me the automated investing platform he uses for his “small but now-burgeoning IRA” sent him a blast-emailed blog about staying the course in market turmoil. “Which was all I really expected from them,” he says. More importantly to Salinger, however, “the visualizer in their app shows I'm still on track despite this crisis to reach my goals by retirement, which is much more helpful than the self-evident blog.”

Salinger makes a good point. Blogs are OK. Puzzles are even better. But clients want and need specifics. Data that gives us insight into our financial lives, and the path ahead, will have a longer-lasting impact. I’m appreciative my advisor has spent two hours speaking with me about my portfolio and planning status. Have you done the same for your clients?

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