This is all very surreal. On Friday night, as Hurricane Harvey ravaged my Houston neighborhood with driving rain, a tornado came down and missed my home by a few blocks. On Saturday, parts of Houston started to flood. On Sunday, the waters of the rivers and bayous around the area started to rise.

Expenses for flood damage are rarely covered entirely. Advisors can play a vital role in helping clients get back on their feet. (Bloomberg News)
Hurricane Harvey has devastated Houston-area neighborhoods. (Bloomberg News) Bloomberg News
Jonathan Swanburg, CFP, is an investment advisor representative with Tri-Star Advisors in Houston, TX.

Thousands of people were trapped in their homes. Thousands of people were left to pray that they’d be rescued by someone with a boat or a helicopter. I wanted to help someone, anyone, but the authorities told everyone to stay off the roads. So, I sat on my couch and watched it all on television.

And then the person on the TV said I had to leave. The Brazos River was rising and by Tuesday, it was going to spill over the tops of the levee into Sienna Plantation — my suburb of roughly 16,000 people just to the southwest of Houston. If we didn’t leave immediately, the roads would become impassable.

I packed my pregnant wife, two boys (ages 4 and 2) and a very angry cat into the car, and we went down the road to my father-in-law’s house in Sugar Land. (My father-in-law also happens to be the president of my RIA, Tri-Star Advisors.) As we got everyone into bed, we received a new alert telling us that this house had been added to the long list of mandatory evacuations.

Quote
In our haste, I forgot to turn off the power, left furniture on the floor and forgot tons of important things that I wish I hadn’t.

So, we packed up again and left, ending up at the home of my wife’s sister, Roxanne, and her husband, Phil. It is only about five minutes away from my in-laws, but the flood map said we would be safer there.

In our haste, I forgot to turn off the power, left furniture on the floor and forgot tons of important papers. Although I’m a financial advisor, I’m not immune to forgetting a few things in times of crisis — no matter what I tell my clients. The next time the forecast calls for record flooding, I will be preparing my important documents and leaving town before the rain starts.

A BRIGHT SIDE
This whole experience helped me realize that I love my clients and many of them love me. I don’t appreciate that fact often enough. When I sent out an email on Friday morning praying for our client’s families and explaining our firm’s contingency plans for flooding and loss of power, none responded on the business issues at hand. Instead, they all expressed concern for my team and our families.

These clients aren’t just portfolios and financial plans. These are the people I interact with on a daily basis. They have told me their hopes, their dreams, and fears; have trusted me with their futures; and, through our advisory relationship, have learned everything about me and have grown to truly care about my family.

On Monday morning when I sent an email updating clients on our status, offers of assistance poured in. Clients offered my family their homes, food, clothing — anything we needed. It was a beautiful thing.

While I don’t yet know the fate of my home, my family is safe and my clients have told me that everything will be OK. And they are right.

Unfortunately, most families in Houston do not have flood insurance and are going to be struggling for a very long time. Our firm is therefore offering free financial planning assistance to anyone in the area who needs it. Right now, we still don’t know exactly what will be needed. Many families will probably need help dealing with FEMA and insurance companies, or just some basic guidance for getting through a financial disaster. For those things, we’ll be here to help.

Ultimately, while Harvey was a catastrophe for millions of people, it was also a reminder that at its best, financial planning is a uniquely personal business built around wonderful people and lifelong relationships.

Jonathan Swanburg

Jonathan Swanburg

Jonathan Swanburg, CFP, is an investment advisor representative with Tri-Star Advisors in Houston. He leads their Guided Wealth Management service focused on serving young professionals and their families.