Facing the Black Swan as a young planner

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Most planners have navigated major market events before: the dot com bubble, 9/11, the Great Recession. Others, like me, have not yet seen anything like this in our adult or professional lives.

I was around for the Great Recession of 2008. I was a 16-year-old and insulated by the shroud of youth and ignorance, thinking about things like my next ballgame or debating whether popping the zit on my nose would make it look worse on Monday.

Confronting the coronavirus crisis is very different. My first thought was: ‘Wow, so this is what it’s like. A recession…and a health pandemic. This is not a drill.” Then: “How do I take care of myself, my family, and our clients when we don’t know how bad this thing will be or how long it will last?” Finally: “Why aren’t my friends taking this seriously?”

In my five years as a planner, I’ve learned that personal experience makes knowledge feel real.

Most of our clients are veterans of market downturns. For the most part, they remain calm and trust us to guide them through this. Yet a pandemic is very new for them and us. They need reassurance.

It isn’t the same with newer clients, especially the recently retired. They are very worried, and their memory has shortened. They want and need reassuring conversations every few days.

Of course, I’m excited to ease the pain with my hard-earned knowledge about recessions and recoveries. But my voice quivers a little. I wonder if they notice. “What if this is different…” I think. “Does a coinciding health crisis and murmurs of a depression change things?”

I’ve not yet had the chance to blend an experience like this with knowledge. I “know” what I’ve learned and heard and said a thousand times. But in the heat of current circumstances, I don’t always feel as confident as I’d imagined.

"Uncertainty and anxiety bring out our foibles. It’s part of the human condition," says Joey Loss of Life Planning Partners.

I would like to think on my best days I’m a go-getter when faced with new challenges. Admittedly, the scope and immediacy of the coronavirus and its threat to my family, friends, coworkers and clients — alongside the economic landslide — is a lot to handle at once.

As part of a team of planners in service to many families, that weight feels amplified. I notice myself feeling a bit subdued. I’m realizing that the self-expectation of navigating with an unwavering sense of poise and competence is not realistic.

Luckily, I am in the company of those who have weathered this kind of storm before. While each of us experiences the ups and downs individually, we lean on each other to remain at our best.

At our firm, we’ve tried to combat negative stress and provide value to each other, our families and clients by encouraging each other to take care of ourselves. We check in with one another regularly and discuss how best to share any challenges that arise.

Uncertainty and anxiety bring out our foibles. It’s part of the human condition. When I’m feeling overwhelmed, I become hyper-focused, quiet and a little irritable.

To combat this, I try to make sure I’m blocking out time for fresh air and physical movement; eating well; checking in with my family and friends and reminding myself of what I have to be grateful for right now.

I’m realizing that the self-expectation of navigating with an unwavering sense of poise and competence is not realistic.

Of course, we are focused on providing good, real and relevant information to clients.

We divide our clients into clusters of like-concerns, monitor new information impacting these groups and deliver relevant updates via newsletter, emails, and phone calls.

We’re also reaching out to our most vulnerable clients on an individual basis.

Some don’t have a lot of social or community support. We reach out to our older clients as well as the optimistically-challenged to provide a friendly check-in. Some of them just need to hear the voice of a fellow human.

As advisors, we have a unique vantage point allowing us to see and respond to the concerns of many who count on us. That opportunity can feel like a burden if we forget to keep balance and focus on one good act at a time.

By managing the situation thoughtfully, I’ve learned we can guide our loved ones and clients through a challenging time and am confident we will emerge stronger on the other side.

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Coronavirus Disaster planning Crisis Management Volatility RIAs Client retention Client communications