How to Run a Remote Advisory Firm

‘This is likely the moment we will become full-time remote and never go back,’ one adviser says. ‘The challenge will be maintaining camaraderie.’

Art by Hayden Maynard

LHD Retirement’s Indianapolis office and Chepenik Financial are two retirement plan advisory practices that are permitting employees to work from home during the coronavirus pandemic.

LHD Indianapolis has instructed half its staff to work from home and will soon rotate those currently working in the office to home-based work. Those currently working from home will return to the office at that time, explains John Ludwig, a financial adviser with LHD.

“We will see where we go from there,” he says.

Working from home is possible with employees using their laptops and accessing the company’s systems through a secured virtual private network (VPN), Ludwig says. To collaborate, LHD is using Microsoft Teams.

Prior to implementing this rotating strategy, LHD’s information technology (IT) team configured the staff’s phones so calls into the office are rerouted to employees’ cellphones—an obviously important step.

Chepenik Financial directed all its employees to work from home starting March 13, says Jason Chepenik, managing partner.

“This is likely the moment we will become remote and never go back,” he says. “It wasn’t a difficult decision to make. The only difficult aspect of it is maintaining camaraderie among my team.”

Chepenik Financial is holding meetings via Zoom, says Chepenik, who hopes it will be one way to maintain a sense of working together.

Cybersecurity Is Critical

As the adviser community transitions to remote-based work, cybersecurity and protecting sensitive information should be top of mind, says Cassandra Labbees, a member of the Employee Benefits and Executive Compensation Practice at law firm Epstein Becker Green.

“Employees’ Wi-Fi systems to connect to the internet should be private and password protected,” Labbees says. “Should their system go down, they should not access public Wi-Fi. Instead, they should contact their IT department for help.”

It is also important for the lines of communication between employees and managers to remain strong, so workers “feel that there is a network, that working from home is not so isolating,” Labbees says.

Reiko Feaver, a partner at Culhane Meadows, one of the largest cloud-based law firms in the country, says advisory practices should regularly remind their employees not to open suspicious emails that could contain malware.

“There are a lot of phishing emails being sent right now with the subject line ‘Coronavirus’ and posing as coming from legitimate sources,” Feaver says. The laptops that employees use should be password protected and lock after a period of time, be it one to five minutes, she adds.

Other Security Steps

If they are on the phone discussing confidential information, employees should even consider turning off smart assistant speakers or other cloud-based voice activation systems, Feaver says, and if a company decides to permit some employees to work from home, they need to permit all employees to do so.

“Otherwise, the policy could be viewed as discriminatory,” she says.

Scott Weighart, director of learning and development at Bates Communications, a leadership coaching and consulting firm whose clients include major recordkeepers, says video conferences are generally more effective than phone calls or emails.

“If you have a recurring biweekly staff meeting, try meeting via video conference every other session,” Weighart says. “Or, use video chat for your recurring one-on-one meetings. You’ll find that there is a different level of engagement and participation.”

Because connecting to a video conference can be cumbersome, make sure everyone logs on at least 10 minutes before the start time, he suggests.

If the meeting has 10 or more participants, one way to ensure they remain engaged is to use polls or chat boxes that allow them to weigh in with their thoughts, he says.

“Give the group reasons to be actively engaged,” Weighart adds. “Don’t speak for more than five minutes without opening it up for discussion to get others speaking.”