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NEWS > City Wire – Are advisors returning to the office? It’s complicated

City Wire – Are advisors returning to the office? It’s complicated

Photograph: Citywire Ltd

Andrew Foerch  19 May 2021, 10:30

The pandemic’s impact across industries has been tremendous, with one of the most affected areas being in-person work. After more than a year of working remotely, Coastal Bridge Advisors is returning to the office on June 1. Our President Jeff Fuhrman recently spoke with Citywire RIA about our office return, and how we’re making decisions that accommodate employees and clients alike.

Read Jeff’s full insight: https://citywireusa.com/registered-investment-advisor/news/are-advisors-returning-to-the-office-its-complicated/a1508223

Even as the pandemic winds down, many RIAs are hesitant about bringing their employees back to the workplace.

This spring, as the coronavirus’s grip on the nation finally loosened, Ken Moraif saw an opportunity. Like most RIAs, the founder of Plano, Texas-based wealth advisory Retirement Planners of America was considering how to most efficiently reopen his firm’s offices to advisors and clients after an unprecedented year of remote work. Rather than simply reviving his firm’s existing brick-and-mortar footprint, Moraif saw a chance to expand it for his clients’ benefit.

Earlier this May, Retirement Planners of America let the lease on its Woodland Hills, Calif. office expire, choosing instead to enter new lease agreements in nearby Westlake Village and Sherman Oaks, California, a move Moraif said ‘better accommodates’ clients in the San Fernando Valley and Ventura County regions outside Los Angeles. Advisors can still choose to work from home, but the offices are open.

Moraif isn’t the only one making such logistical decisions.

With caseloads dropping nationwide and vaccination rates on the rise, RIAs everywhere are asking themselves how best to navigate a lasting return to in-person office work. Among the questions they’re looking to answer are how to handle logistics like office layout and cleaning procedures, how to manage employees who might prefer remote work, and how to effectively conduct client meetings in a fragile post-pandemic environment.

To take the industry’s temperature on the subject, Citywire polled about 100 advisors in late April to learn their approach to the grand office revival. Results were mixed. About 42% reported they’ve already returned to the office on a regular basis, with another 42% planning to return in the second half of this year. Twelve percent said they’ll never go back

Anecdotally, firms that have already returned to the office seem to be employing some combination of safety measures, including capacity limits, sign-in sheets for case tracing, intensified cleaning regiments, rotating schedules, and temperature checks – at least until the virus and its variants are vanquished.

Hybrid workplace

One apparent effect of the pandemic is a shift towards flexibility in office culture. Of the survey’s respondents, about 64% said employees will have some degree of flexibility to continue working from home if they so choose.

Ryan Klekar, senior wealth manager of $4.1bn Cincinnati, Ohio-based Truepoint Wealth Counsel, said he’ll start calling his RIA’s 70-some employees back in July.

‘A lot of people are really happy working from home,’ he said. ‘We’ve outlined that we will expect people in [the office] Tuesdays and Thursdays, and they can work from home Monday, Wednesday, and Friday unless we have clients that want to meet one of those days in person.’

In Westport, Connecticut, Jeff Fuhrman’s Coastal Bridge Advisors plans to reopen its headquarters at full capacity in June. Advisors won’t be required to return, but Fuhrman said he predicts most are looking forward to being back after more than a year of being stuck at home.

State-to-state

Coastal Bridge has a satellite office in none other than Fox Plaza, a 34-story Los Angeles skyscraper better known by its fictional moniker Nakatomi Plaza from the 1988 action epic Die Hard. Reopening that office has proved a bit more challenging for Coastal Bridge’s executives – not because of a cabal of thieving German radicals, but because different states have various Covid situations that can’t be treated equally.

‘LA, the city, has a different dynamic than the suburbs of Connecticut. It’s been under tighter control than we have in Westport,’ Fuhrman said.

Atria Wealth Solutions, a wealth management holding company with six offices in six states, is running into similar geographic issues. The company has formed a committee that meets once a week to go over case rates and other data in each of the company’s locales.

Chief marketing officer Bob Holcomb said 90% of employees in all six offices are still working from home, although, ‘we’re beginning to put plans in place for a return to work.’

Atria is considering if and how vaccines should play into its reopening strategy – an effort that is complicated, Holcomb said, by the fact that different states have different rules.

Client comfort

Another relevant culture change is the waning interest in out-of-state business travel. Among Citywire’s survey respondents, 75% said they planned to travel less than before the pandemic.

David Childs, founder of Spartan Planning Group in Greensboro, North Carolina, told Citywire that his clients in states such as North Dakota and California had previously expected annual visits, but that the pandemic ‘has made it so we don’t have to travel every year to every one. It has changed some clients’ expectations of service.’

Childs conceded that if a long-distance client is adamant about wanting an in-person visit, his advisors will accommodate.

Retirement Planners of America’s Moraif echoed that the needs and expectations of his clients are the main factor in his decision-making.

‘Whatever the client wants, we’re going to try to satisfy,’ he said, adding  some clients are ‘starting to ask when they can come back to the office.’

May 2021