Advisors Weigh in: How to Address Volatility and Recession Concerns During COVID-19

2020 and 2021 have been an unsettling time for investors of all levels as U.S. markets have gone from record highs into a vicious bear market in under a month, back to record highs all in the span of two years. The volatility has indeed been head-spinning as the entire global economy effectively came to a stand-still as the global pandemic spread from country to country, and then rebounded as vaccines took hold and the burden of severe disease wanted. This led to new problems such as disruptions in global supply chains, a shortage of things like microchips for cars, and soaring real estate prices not seen since 2007-08.

Helping individual investors navigate global threats and protect their personal finances has financial advisors working overtime to help their clients through this unprecedented time. Several of Investopedia’s Top 100 Financial Advisors offered guidance on how to address some of the most pressing client concerns during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Key Takeaways

  • While nobody can predict the next global disaster, financial advisors can help prepare their clients for unexpected downturns.
  • The COVID-19 pandemic proved to be one such disruption, with economic fallout ranging from severe downturns to all-time market highs in a matter of two years.
  • Keen portfolio management during volatile periods like these can protect investors from losses on the way down, and capitalize on gains on the way back up.

COVID-19: An Unprecedented Time 

As COVID-19 began to spread around the world, investors struggled to understand the long-term implications of the economic shifts they were seeing. Then, with countries opening up amid vaccinations and in response to pent-up consumer demand and frustration, 2021 saw new and confusing market signals, from rising inflation to unprecedented international shipping delays. For advisors, offering clients a way to make sense of changes like these can go a long way toward alleviating anxieties and helping clients create proactive strategies for the months ahead.

“This is an unprecedented time and people are focused on living their lives the best they can,” remarked Lazetta Braxton, Co-CEO and senior financial planner at 2050 Wealth Partners, with regard to the COVID-19 pandemic. While those particular circumstances were far different from what investors had dealt with in the past, the action plan remained the same: accessibility and a holistic approach remain key during these uncertain times. 

With the need for social distancing apparent early in the crisis, client communication shifted, and advisors found ways to keep their connections with clients as strong as ever. “What we strive to do is to be accessible,” said Douglas Boneparth, president of Bone Fide Wealth, emphasizing that virtual communication can be a powerful way of keeping clients informed about market trends. “Email is very effective and Zoom and a lot of similar technologies make it easier to stay connected.”

For advisors who sought to connect with clients and prospects more broadly, social media platforms such as Twitter and LinkedIn offered more opportunities to provide guidance and analysis on financial trends. “With social media, you have the profound ability for your clients to share that story with someone else,” explained Ted Jenkin, CEO of oXYGen Financial Inc. And that ability can translate to new business. “As much as the markets have gone awry, we’ve experienced a tremendous influx of new clients because of our ability to put new content in front of people.”

Addressing Investor Concerns

Along with finding ways to stay connected, offering clients key insights about the current financial climate is one of the best things you can do. While this advice should be general enough to address market conditions, it should also answer some of their questions about what the future holds—for their investments and their financial security. 

“When people are at home, they have the news and online portals—it’s information overload,” said Marguerita Cheng, CEO of Blue Ocean Global Wealth. This can often lead to misunderstandings about the true impact of fluctuating markets and even to emotional decisions. But Cheng explained that countering information overload with relevant guidance can stem client fears and help investors stay the course. “There are positive things we can do to help our clients—and we can always tie it back to control.”

Part of that control comes with limiting unnecessary spending. “I’m focusing on the spending side because I feel like people can do something about that,” replied Cathy Curtis, the founder of Curtis Financial Planning, LLC, explaining that this is often part of a broader conversation about client portfolios and volatility-related concerns. Above all, it’s important to customize your advice for each client’s individual situation, taking into account the things they’re most concerned about and the strategies that can help them achieve the security they seek.

Portfolio Management During Periods of Volatility

In addition to providing guidance on staying the course during volatile times, it’s also important to address proactive steps with clients—including portfolio rebalancing and tax-loss harvesting. “I’m strategically doing tax-loss harvesting with high-net-worth clients who have large taxable accounts,” said Curtis. “I’m also keeping them in the market but in different securities—usually ETFs. I use a technology tool called iRebal to do that, and I’m doing that case by case.”

While rebalancing and tax-loss harvesting are prudent and tangible ways of addressing volatile market conditions, Ben Carlson, director of Institutional Asset Management at Ritholtz Wealth Management emphasized that it’s important to have a clear strategy in place before moving forward with more proactive opportunities. “I think we’re seeing some dislocations,” he remarked, explaining that active trader opportunities could be especially risky during this time. “I think you have to be really careful about the way you’re trading these things and have to have a strategy in place when you do it.”

For those clients who want to be proactive while also minimizing risk, refinancing mortgage loans or debt could also be a good idea. “This is a great opportunity to reach out to your clients to talk about refinancing,” said Cheng. “It may not be appropriate for everyone, but it could be a great option, saving interest and time.” She emphasizes that this could be a particularly good option for clients who are planning to say in their homes for a while, or those for whom the cost savings could reach the break-even point within a few years.

What Causes Market Volatility?

Markets tend to like know what is going on and what will happen in the future. Therefore, markets tend to be more volatile as new news surfaces or uncertainty occurs. Market volatility is also a function of higher activity of buying and selling which may happen as investors get access to new information (both potentially positively or negatively).

Is It Good to Invest During Volatility?

Volatility may be a good opportunity for investors, though volatile periods often correlate to periods of higher risk. During periods of volatility, investors may experience sharper price increases or decreases which may open up buying opportunities or force investors into their position due to a lack of appetite for selling at a loss. Every investor will have their own preference on whether or not to get involved in this type of market.

How Does Volatility Impact Investment Return?

Volatility is different from investment risk, though they are related to each other. Very broadly speaking, investment returns tend to be higher for riskier investment. Therefore, investors looking for higher returns may turn to more volatile investments that have riskier profiles.

Volatility also impacts investment returns based on the horizon an investor has in mind for liquidating their position. Investors may need to be mindful that sharp declines in prices may quickly leave them in an inopportune moment to sell their investment. This means investors may not be able to sell volatile investors when they want.

The Bottom Line

Above all, what remains most important is to meet clients where they are while helping to limit their anxieties about the future. “We have to try to help people get through not only the market turmoil but also the potential emotional turmoil,” said Jenkin. Staying connected, offering insights, and providing comprehensive financial planning are all a part of the picture, and when done right, they can strengthen advisor-client relationships while also paving the way for a less bumpy future.

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