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Hurricane Harvey: Helping clients after the clouds clear

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As Hurricane Harvey bore down on the Texas coastline last week, adviser Liz Miller and her colleagues at Summit Place Financial Advisors in Summit, New Jersey, immediately began calling clients who might be affected.

“We reached out proactively to clients in the area checking if they had left and offering help if we could,” says Miller. With continued rain and flooding expected over the next few days, she says her firm will continue to "reach out and see how we can help."
Unfortunately, she has had to make similar calls before. Last October, she and her colleagues rushed to offer financial advice and emotional support to clients who were in the path of Hurricane Matthew which slammed the Florida coast and left more than a million people without power.

Fortunately for Miller’s clients, she’d prepped them long before the hurricane.

"Over the past couple years we have encouraged every client and friend of the firm to complete a critical information organizer that we provide to record contacts and locations of important documents," she says. "We also offer to scan and post estate planning, insurance and other important documents to the secure vault on our clients' personalized firm websites."

Before other storms, Summit Financial has helped clients procure flood and earthquake insurance. They've also suggested they allocate cash to be held at a local community bank or an out-of-town bank, in case evacuation was needed.

“Money is the last thing you want to worry about when facing a potential natural disaster,” she said in October.

To better help clients affected by natural disasters, here are some planners’ best practices.

Offer financing advice: Planners can play an important role for clients picking up their lives after a natural disaster, says David Lee, Raymond James’s head of practice management. “The best we can do is let them know how insurance works,” Lee says. “Where cash is needed we help them [find resources] to fund repairs or even down payments.”

Offer special advice on securities-based lending, Lee adds. Help clients access financing in the most cost effective ways, such as second mortgages or HELOCs. “Those are the kinds of things you can do,” he says.

Covering immediate expenses: In the days, weeks and months after a disaster, planners should ensure that their clients short-term cash needs are being met, says Mark Johannessen, managing director at Sullivan, Bruyette, Speros & Blayney. If not, a client’s portfolio should be reviewed to cover immediate expenses. “Usually this would be accompanied by a reassessment of risk due to the unknowns of recovery and timing of potential insurance recovery,” he says.

Reach out, show up: “We reach out any time we hear about an event or impending event that might impact clients,” says Summit’s Miller. “We want to share our personal and professional concern and offer any help we can.”

Miller has “held hands” with clients after disasters and offered practical advice, both financial and personal. “We have come in person to help during and after a wide range of events that are both financial and emotional in nature,” she says.

Digging deep: After Superstorm Sandy devastated portions of New York in 2012, Staten Island-based Allan Katz took on tasks large and small. The owner of independent agency, Comprehensive Wealth Management Group, helped one client, a home improvement contractor, get more lines of credit by researching rates and literally taking the business' financial information to the banks, bringing back paperwork for the business owner to sign. That allowed the contractor to keep running around the clock and repair more homes.

Advisors say that certain preparation can help them help their clients.

Provide a checklist: While Miller suggests clients complete an information organizer, Lee assembled a checklist that covers everything from evacuating a home, to storing financial documents, to compiling what he calls a “bugout bag.”

Demonstrate special expertise: Lee’s list offers information that is more financially oriented than the standard U.S. Red Cross emergency checklist. About safe deposit boxes, he writes: “The disadvantages of the safe deposit box are that it may not be immediately available if your bank location was severely damaged, there is an annual fee involved and, there is no guarantee (and no FDIC insurance) against damage to your belongings while in the box.”

Portions of this article were first published in 2016 in "Hurricane Matthew: Helping clients before — and after." It has been updated throughout.

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