07 May Finding Joy In Unexpected Places
One of the typical traits amongst our clients is that their preferred method of communicating with us is via email. Generally, they will only phone if it is something they deem as being a pressing issue, or difficult to communicate in an email.
On a day to day basis, the office phones are quiet. We get far more calls from people trying to sell us a multitude of things we don’t want than we do calls from our clients.
So, when the pandemic struck, and world stock markets went into freefall, our early client communications were by email. Apart from anything else, it was the quickest and most effective way to communicate with a large group of people.
Our first emails concentrated on what was happening in the markets, reminding our clients of our investment philosophy and that they had a robust financial plan to help them through this. Full credit to our clients – and our team who have clearly done a great job in preparing clients for a severe market downturn – we received precisely zero calls or emails from clients exhibiting any signs of anxiety. A few wanted to know by how much their portfolio had fallen. Since none of them is invested 100% in equities, they found it immensely reassuring to see that the bonds they hold had come into their own and done their job – to reduce the volatility in their portfolios and cushion some of the falls.
The second raft of client communications focussed on keeping our clients informed about what was happening at Bloomsbury. We moved everyone to working from home before the government required us to do so. A combination of having a long history of team members working from home and an IT system which easily enabled those who hadn’t previously worked from home to do so meant this was a smooth transition. Working with our leading strategic partner, Raymond James, we were able to reassure clients that it was ‘business as usual’ and there would be no aspect of our service which we would be unable to continue to provide. Client meetings have had to move from face-to-face to Zoom, but that’s the only change they’ve experienced.
Each week I send out to clients a slightly different version of ‘The Weekend Starts Here’. I make a point each week to provide an update on how we’re doing and to comment on anything COVID-19 or market related that I think would be helpful.
As lockdown continued into April, we’re now at phase three of our client communications. One by one, I’m picking up the phone and calling clients. The call always starts the same. I say, “I’m just calling to check you’re ok”. For a cohort of non-phone users, these calls have been incredible:
– Each call has lasted a minimum of 20 and up to 45 minutes
– Clients are sharing the minutiae of their day to day lives which I would never have been aware of if I hadn’t called them
– I discovered that one of our elderly clients has had the virus. He was ill for 12 days, stayed at home and self-medicated. Thankfully, he pulled through
– One family shared that they had had the opportunity to be tested privately. Both of their young children have had the virus, although neither showed any symptoms beyond those of having a slight cold. Neither parent caught it (this and the instance above shocked me, but just go to show how under-reported cases are. None of these will ever appear in the statistics)
– The calls have been full of laughter. Not a single complaint about lockdown. They are just getting on with it and making the most of the situation. As one client said, “Luckily, I have an excellent wine cellar, so I have nothing to complain about.” 😂
– Our clients are revelling in having their young adult children back home with them and see this time with them as precious precisely because it was so unexpected
– Many have embarked on ‘mad’ projects to fill their time (frequently garden-related)
– Not a single client mentioned their investment portfolio
– In one way or another, every client said how touched they were to receive the call
I must say, I’m not a massive fan of the phone either – email is my preferred method of communication too. But, boy have I loved making these calls. That the conversations have gone way beyond “We’re fine thanks, how are you?” completely took me by surprise. The weird and wonderful variety of subjects we’ve talked about has been incredible. The time I initially allocated in my calendar to make the calls has turned out to be woefully insufficient.
Even though we know our clients well and review meetings always have a significant focus on what’s going on in their lives, these calls have somehow been something different and so unique. This is a time in our lives we will never forget. And I’ll always remember the privilege of having had these wonderful conversations with our clients.