Guiding Clients Through Tough Times

By Jimmy Magahern

With all the unprecedented volatility in the markets right now, it’s perhaps not surprising that many investors have become as fearful of checking the Dow as the rest of us have become reading the breaking coronavirus alerts on our smartphones each morning.
“I’ve had clients—including some who’ve actually made money through this process—who have told me they’re afraid to look at their statements,” says Grant Ulrick, partner and wealth adviser at the Scottsdale offices of Stratos Wealth Partners Ltd. “And I told them, ‘You should. You might be surprised. Pleasantly surprised.’”
Finding ways to survive—and even thrive—during difficult times is a specialty Ulrick and Stratos have mastered. Jeff Concepcion started Stratos at the peak of the financial crisis in 2009, and Ulrick joined after weathering several dramatic ups and downs before that. He says technology-driven companies are benefiting from the current work-from-home focus while commercial real estate sellers are suffering.
“If people are going to learn how to do more work from home,” he observes, “large office space may not be as necessary.”
Ulrick got his start in the financial industry as a catastrophe adjuster for his self-owned insurance company, a job that required him to travel to disaster sites assessing property damage claims. These days, he doesn’t travel as much (in fact, like all of us, he’s urged to minimize business trips), but he doesn’t really need to: The financial damage from the global pandemic is everywhere. But Ulrick says his catastrophe training prepared him well for this moment.
“The one most important thing you can do is stay in constant contact with your clients,” he says, “to either reassure them or make changes where necessary.”
Lately, Ulrick has spent a lot of his time reassuring clients that the current economic crisis may not be impacting their portfolios as much as they fear.
“A week ago, I was sending my clients snapshots of their accounts so they could see where they stood through this whole mess,” he says. “A lot of them were very happy to see it. Even if they were down, they weren’t down too far in comparison to the market, which is part of asset allocation and part of hedging strategies.”
“We explain to clients, ‘That is why we allocate your portfolio the way we do,’” adds Bobbie Meola, managing partner at Stratos’ Scottsdale office on Greenway Parkway, just across the street from the Westin Kierland Resort & Spa. “We tell them, ‘That is why you only have 30% of your money in the stock market. This is why we did an annuity with the part of your money, to make sure that you have an income.’ So, you know, it’s really just reminding them why we have their portfolio structured the way it is.”
“I have been through several recessions, several booms in the market,” Ulrick says. “And my experience has taught me that there are things we can control, beyond the things we can’t control. There are processes we go through to reduce risk in portfolios and other ways to maximize gains.”
After running his own insurance company for more than seven years around Springfield, Massachusetts and Glastonbury, Connecticut, Ulrick worked as a representative for Prudential and later Wells Fargo Advisors, where he served for 15 years, working his way up to vice president of investments at the Meriden, Connecticut, office. It was Meola who brought him over to Stratos.
“She showed me the strength of the firm, showed me the support advisors received,” he says. “And she let me know that at this firm, you have the ability to take care of your own clients the way they should be taken care of. The main thing that drew me to the company was that their whole philosophy boiled down to, ‘Just do right by your clients. If you do right by your clients, you don’t have any problems.’”
“There’s so much more flexibility here,” Meola adds. “When you’re at a big firm, they tell you what to invest in for your clients. Here, you can make decisions based solely on what you think is best for your clients. And you can give your clients better pricing and costs for their business.”
Those one-on-one relationships are particularly important in hard times like these. “Right now, I’m getting a lot of calls asking me, ‘How long do you think this is going to go on?’” Ulrick says. “And I tell them, ‘My crystal ball’s not that clear.’ I do know we’re probably closer to a bottom than we are a top. And I have others asking me, ‘Should I buy now?’”
That’s a hard one, Ulrick says, particularly with the way computerized trading is driving a lot of the volatility.
“When you see the market move a thousand points in a minute or 2, a lot of that is due to the computer algorithms that are trading the markets at rapid speed.”
Ulrick does see tech as a good field to invest in. “I feel that a lot of the technology-driven companies are going to benefit from this change we’re all coping with. Companies that have a delivery or online presence will definitely benefit even after this is over, because people are creatures of habit. And right now, they’re getting into the habit of staying at home and needing to use technology. So, as they become more and more accustomed to using it, you’re likely going to see more of a shift in that direction.”
On a more urgent note, Ulrick has been advising clients to get their personal affairs in order. “One of the things I’m talking to people about is making sure that they have their medical directives in place, making sure they know if they have power of attorney in place,” he says. “With many clients, we’ve had this conversation in the past. But I always want to make sure that if they need any updating, they do it now.”
As for his own business, the award-winning wealth adviser remains upbeat. “One of the good things about our business is that when the markets are good, everybody’s happy and nobody wants to leave their adviser,” he says. “When the markets are bad like this, then they started talking to friends about, ‘Well, how are you doing? Who’s your adviser?’”
That’s when Ulrick’s attention to his clients translates into valuable word-of-mouth. “These are the times I usually get a lot of referrals,” he says. “I hold on to my clients mainly by constantly contacting them. I make sure I sit down in front of them at least once every quarter.”
These days, of course, all of Stratos’ 16 advisers at the Scottsdale office are communicating with clients more on Facetime, Zoom or Skype. But Ulrick says he’s making that work.
“If anything, I’m putting even more time and effort into communicating with my clients and educating myself constantly on new ways to help them.”
The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual. All performance referenced is historical and is no guarantee of future results. All indices are unmanaged and may not be invested into directly.
The economic forecasts set forth in this material may not develop as predicted and there can be no guarantee that strategies promoted will be successful.
This information is not intended to be a substitute for specific individualized tax or legal advice. We suggest that you discuss your specific situation with a qualified tax or legal adviser.
Jimmy Magahern and Stratos Wealth Partners are separate entities and are not affiliated with LPL Financial.
Securities offered through LPL Financial, member FINRA/SIPC. Investment advice offered through Stratos Wealth Partners Ltd., a registered investment adviser and a separate entity from LPL Financial.

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