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COVID-19-Inspired Introspection Prompts Financial Advisors to Move

Once the coronavirus hit and we all started working from home, Bruce Lee's phone started ringing with questions from captive advisors about independence.

The social, political and economic impact of the novel coronavirus pandemic remains untallied, with little chance for a complete reckoning until—well, until it’s all over. But we can learn as we experience it together, and start to recognize glimmers of opportunity in a challenge we all face to varying degrees, depending on our ages, locations and occupations.

For many of us, the shutdown that has stretched patchily across the planet since mid-March has been a period of deep introspection. For some, this self-examination has led to action that I’ve had the pleasure to witness firsthand.

The Phone Started Ringing

Measures taken to “flatten the curve” of coronavirus cases put our professional lives on a new and, for most of us, unfamiliar work-from-home standing. Inevitably, freed from commutes and the constraints of workplaces, some of our friends and neighbors began wondering if they had followed the right callings, or had positioned themselves to best advantage within their professions.

I encountered this phenomenon in the form of unsolicited calls from securities brokers, most employed by national or large regional firms but some from smaller independent RIAs. They either wanted to know what it was like to be independent or how—in concrete terms—we were coping with the pandemic.

And it’s not like this was occurring in a lull. Financial advisors were extremely and conscientiously busy calming clients in the face of an unprecedented public health threat—and, initially, a plunge in stock prices. Add to this urgency widespread confusion around communication protocols, and you can start to see how hectic financial advisors’ lives have been this year, especially in March and April.

The Lure of Independence

Still, the lockdown gave some financial advisors the bandwidth to turn critical eyes on their affiliations, as many captive advisors had done during and soon after the Great Recession in 2008.

Maybe these advisors turned to me because my move to independence occurred recently. Previously with Merrill Lynch, I established Chicago-based Keebeck Wealth Management as an independent registered investment advisor in mid-2018. Structurally our RIA is the boutique wealth management sister firm of a hedge fund, a private equity firm and a real estate development business, which I also own and manage. 

In any event, the calls kept coming until I had heard from all over the United States. Some of the calls turned into conversations, and then into friendships colored by professional interest, a shared understanding of the importance of transparent and dynamic client service, and a strong sense that the coronavirus had changed the rules of business, particularly for consumer businesses.

An Unexpected Outcome

In a move directly related to these conservations, two ex-Merrill advisors, Steve Vujevich and Matthew Anderson, joined Keebeck in June to establish an office for us in Columbus, Ohio. I have to keep a lid on the specifics for now, but more advisors will be joining us soon.

This expansion wasn’t even in view for us at Keebeck before the pandemic. It arose quickly this year, and it arose naturally, the result of close and careful discussions touching on practical matters as well as philosophies of life, and the importance of independence to personal happiness. 

As we work our way out of the pandemic, I’m certain that—amid its tragedies and challenges—this public health crisis has presented us with an extraordinary opportunity to work for a better future. We can make a start by taking real interest in each other’s prosperity and happiness with a view to a more secure future in which all Americans have the tools and resources to work in alignment with their values.

Bruce K. Lee is CEO of Keebeck Wealth Management in Chicago.

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