from the tech providers and includes most of the tools
within the advisor’s monthly affiliation fee,” Bacarella said.
“Recent additions include compliant texting and videocon-
The change to remote staffing has worked well, she says, so
the IBD is not mandating that employees return to the office.
Although the office is open to those who want to return, thefirm plans to be flexible until management or the state government believe itis safe to “return en masse.”
The Investment Center had implemented eSignature before the pandemic,but once it spread, “the amount of usageincreased dramatically,” said RalphDeVito, president of the Bedminster,New Jersey-based firm, which has291 advisors and assets of $8.6 billion.
Earlier, the IBD had trained advisors on how to use the newtechnology, and many were familiar with Docupace, so thetransition was “smooth and efficient,” he explained.
To keep advisors and staff informed, the IBD introduced aseries of interactive webinars and live videos. Its main challenge was equipping and moving the entire staff to homeoffices and also finalizing cybersecurity tasks.
The demand for equipment was high, which some suppliers couldn’t meet. “We had some team members go to Costcoto buy laptops and headsets, so our back office could quicklybegin to work remotely,” DeVito said.
“Having some staff working from home is somethingthat will likely continue,” especially asthey’ve seen “significant efficiencies,”he added.
United Planners Financial Services,which has 500-plus advisors and $16.5billion in assets, has benefitted byexpanding its eSignature capabilitiesthrough DocuSign a year ago. Duringrenovation work last year, the Scottsdale,Arizona-based firm sent half of its staffhome to work — a good test for what was on the horizon.
“While this was done prior to any knowledge of what wasabout to come in 2020, the timing was invaluable, as we provedour remote abilities in phases, which greatly assisted in providing a seamless transition,” said President Michael A. Baker.
The IBD also had “rebranded and enhanced” its softwaretools in 2019 to host webinars, Zoom meetings and podcasts,and these efforts benefitted advisors in 2020, he adds.
The biggest challenge was making sure employees felt con-
nected. To do that, the firm used “proactive” communication
strategies with both employees and advisors.
For instance, Baker sends out videos (of about five to seven
minutes) with company updates and news several times a
month. “We never did [this] before because we always had in-
person meetings,” he explained.
Another challenge, and one he says was welcome, has been
recruiting. The firm has been “bombarded with calls, because
advisors at some firms are experiencing dramatic decreases in
level of service during the pandemic,” Baker said.
Some of its advisors have said service has improved, “as
employees are not traveling, are in their ‘office’ more and are
not spending an hour or more each day commuting to work,”
Teleconferencing will continue
beyond the pandemic, especially as mil-
lennials prefer this format, Baker says.
For Dallas-based Prospera Financial
Services, with 131 advisors and $9 bil-
lion of assets, contacted all advisors as
soon as the pandemic started to be sure
they could work from home. It also
“offered to help set up remote meeting
software at no charge, so they could begin to get used to talk-
ing to clients in that manner — before they had to,” said David
Stringer, president and principal.
Earlier, the firm had rolled out COREngine, a cloud-based
CRM that allows advisors to access client account data in a
Its biggest challenge has been “continuing to grow and cul-
tivate our office culture without everyone being together,”
Stringer explained. “We have always had some remote
employees, but having virtually 100% working remotely is
new to us.”
The IBD has encouraged video conferencing “as a
standard rather than the exception, regular check-ins,
continued weekly culture-alignment routines that include
‘huddles,’ service discussions and monthly firmwide staff
meetings,” according to Stringer. These efforts have kept
communication open between management and staff and
serve to encourage discussions beyond the standard “business
stuff,” he adds.
“A silver lining through all of this is that we have learned we
can support remote staff successfully, and that remote staff can
support our advisors successfully,” Stringer said.
Video conferencing should remain par for the course at
Prospera, as advisors and staff have “learned to do ‘virtual
home office visits’ pretty well, and we’ll add these into our
repertoire when an advisor is unable to visit us at the home
office,” he explained.