There can never be enough said about the benefits of being prepared. Every long-term investor knows the value of investing ‘early and often’ to prepare for the future. Anyone who has faced a storm knows to batten down the hatches before the tempest strikes. But in March 2020, when the coronavirus suddenly became very real across the US, many were poorly prepared for the challenge ahead. With little warning and no precedent, it was no wonder. Thankfully, our team at Leisure Capital Management was on the opposite end of the spectrum. Our preparation for any sort of emergency shut down ensured that we were ready and able to serve our clients with the same level of excellence you know and trust.
Over the past two years, we’ve spent significant time on SWOT analysis—the process of carefully assessing the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats to our business in the case of a natural disaster. Due to our location in Southern California, earthquakes were in top of mind, but we were well aware that emergencies, by their nature, are often unpredictable. So we prepared our systems and processes to adapt to anything that could force us to close our doors and manage the business remotely.
As the guardians of our clients’ financial lives, protecting your assets and ensuring that you have access to your funds and your account information at any time was a top priority. For that reason, the first step in our Business Continuity Plan (BCP) was to take our client reporting processes completely paperless. We explored how to use our online client portal to replace physical mailings of paper documents. Schwab, one of our primary custodians, supported our transition to an online model by implementing a digital eSignature application, DocuSign, that enables secure e-authorization of all sorts of financial documents, making it possible for clients to open accounts and execute secure transactions from anywhere. We also moved all of our systems to the Cloud to provide our team with remote access to the information and tools we use to manage our portfolios, ensure access to our vendor websites, and support our clients. Lastly, we put emergency processes into place, including a physical escape plan in case of earthquake or fire, as well as a phone system that can redirect calls from our main switchboard directly to our cell phones at the flip of a switch.
Our goal throughout the process was to deliver a seamless, uninterrupted client experience in the case of any sort of disruption to our business. Not one of us, of course, imagined how soon we would need to put our plan into action.
When Gov. Newsom first issued the first Stay At Home order on March 19, it seemed that the world around us was thrown into chaos. Toilet paper and disinfectant vanished from store shelves. Lines at Costco were hours long. Events were canceled and vacations were put on hold. Everywhere we looked, people were frantically trying to prepare for a completely new sort of emergency: a mandated lockdown to protect us from an aggressive and potentially deadly virus. While we were certainly alarmed by the situation, at our office, chaos was nowhere to be found.
While we could never have predicted COVID-19 or its impact on the world around us, we were ready and able to ‘flip the switch’ on our business as soon as the Governor announced the order. We locked the doors to the office that night, switched over to our digital processes, and were operating remotely literally overnight. By the next morning, our quarterly reporting process had gone from approximately 40% digital to an astounding 95%. All of our systems—CRM (Client Relationship Management), portfolio management, phone, and more—were functioning remotely. Our on-site team was limited to ‘essential’ employees (as a financial institution, we are considered an ‘essential service’), and all other team members were working productively at home using e-Fax, TurboScan, and other digital applications. Our plan worked without a hitch, and we were able to service every client with total confidence—even in the face of a statewide lockdown.
At the time, we assumed this arrangement would be short-lived. We were all confident we would soon be back in our office and back to normal in a matter of weeks. Nothing was further from the truth. Weeks turned into months, and though our new way of serving our clients is working as smoothly as we could ever have hoped, it is now clear that our ‘new normal’ requires extra precautions. To adapt to this reality, we recently began construction on glass-paneled workspaces to support social distancing and create barriers to the virus within our office space. This will allow our team to return to the office when it is safe to do so—and to stay safe and healthy in the months ahead.
The pandemic has brought many challenges. Even those of us who have managed to avoid being infected with the virus have had to create and navigate a whole new way of life. Now, four months after we were first told to Stay At Home, there’s still no end in sight. But the pandemic will end. Eventually. When it does, we look forward to inviting you back to the office for a chat, a handshake, and a hug. Until then, know that we are here, at your service, for the duration. Until then, stay well and stay safe.