James Coney  

Advisers turned therapists

James Coney

James Coney

I can only imagine the conversations that advisers are being forced to have with clients at the moment. This is the toughest of times.

The near 12-year bull run was always going to come to an end; the only question was when and how.

No one thought it would come crashing down. No one imagined a global health crisis would leave the world economy shattered. Few could have prepared their clients for this. 

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In the days after the crashes in markets began, advisers told me how the phone calls from clients were not about wealth protection, they were about their very financial survival.

Taxi drivers, oil contractors, small business owners, restaurateurs; the list ran on and on.

In fact, they seem to be less like financial advisers now and more like therapists.

What was heartening to hear was how many advisers had managed to protect clients from the worst of the storm. After all, that is what asset allocation is all about.

Markets across the world have been repricing risk into the asset values of corporations; now consumers have to reassess what they thought were the risks and make their own new judgements on what they can handle.

The problem we have now is that we really do not know what the full scale of that will be at the moment.

In the time between I write this and you read it, everything may have changed again.

Certainly, many clients are likely to find themselves in a financial situation they never dreamed and changing their views on retirement.

What startled me about the reaction from business in that black week where the market crashed, was the immediate pragmatism and forthrightness of the financial sector.

In more than two decades as a journalist, I have not seen anything like that before. 

Banks immediately passed on the full base rate cut to borrowers in a way that suggested they knew the political and economic importance of reducing costs.

They also began emailing and writing to customers giving them unseen before leniency: allowing them to quit savings deals early without penalty, waive fees, deposit higher amounts remotely.

They know that customers are going to need huge amounts of financial support.

And then there was British Airways just a few days into the crisis, talking frankly about fears for its very future.

Nothing is to be underestimated any more. There is no sugar-coating.

So it is in this context that clients will be expecting advisers to offer solutions and, most importantly, hope. They are going to want reassurance that their savings are in good hands.

Forget the threat of passives; this is the time for advice and active management.

If I sound sombre, it is because I am. Where a supply side crisis meets a demand side crisis, meets a global health emergency, it is serious.