New York and New Jersey advisers pitch in as storm recovery begins

Some open their doors to colleagues, others find remote offices

Nov 2, 2012 @ 3:36 pm

By Darla Mercado

Advisers in New York and New Jersey are starting to put their lives back together after Hurricane Sandy and, in doing so, are lending colleagues a hand.

It's a little early to begin thinking of formalized pro-bono efforts by local chapters of the Financial Planning Association and the National Association of Insurance and Financial Advisors, especially considering that many of their members in the Garden and Empire states were among the eight million customers without power earlier this week when Sandy made landfall in Atlantic City, N.J.

The FPA's first priority is to let relief agencies do the work they need to help communities, said spokeswoman Theresa Jennings.

“Our members and chapters have a long history of pro bono assistance and working with local groups in situations like this,” she said. “We have no doubt we will be able to provide needed support as soon as the efforts are ready for our assistance.”

In the first few days of the recovery, advisers are reaching to one another.

“We're all struggling without power and Internet service,” said Leslie T. Beck, vice president of Compass Wealth Management LLC and president of the New Jersey FPA chapter. “Most of the people I spoke to don't have power in their office or in their homes. Everyone is in scramble mode.”

Ms. Beck herself is working out of her Bergen County home, as her office in Maplewood, N.J., has no power.

Today, she will be sending out an e-mail to local chapter members urging advisers who have sufficient power and office space to get in touch with colleagues who are still in the dark.

Mark Olson, past president of NAIFA-New Jersey and owner of The Olson Agency, said that many local insurance agents are working similar arrangements. He was only able to open his Madison, N.J., office today and has been swamped with calls from clients — a situation, no doubt, being experienced by many of his colleagues.

“What I'm seeing is a lot of agents reaching out and saying, 'Hey, I have power. Come in, work here and reach your clients from here,'” Mr. Olson said. “Despite our personal challenges of not having heat or electricity in our homes, we're helping each other out.”

Sandy struck close to home for some advisers, requiring them to help employees get back on their feet.

“One of our employees lost his house,” said Gregory L. Olsen, partner at Lenox Advisors Inc. of New York. Another member of the firm's team brought a generator to that individual's home to help him pump out the floodwater. Others sent food to the worker's family.

Mr. Olsen himself lives in a part of Manhattan that wasn't affected by the storm. He noted the sharp disparity between the experiences of those living on the Upper East and West sides — those who still have power — and those who are in lower Manhattan, which is still without electricity.

“It's a tale of two cities,” he said. “We are trying to be helpful to as many as possible. We were spared.”

Formal pro bono efforts are a discussion item for an upcoming meeting of the New York chapter of the FPA, according to Gail Linn, president-elect of FPA New York and a registered representative with MetLife Securities Inc. It took her a two-hour bus ride to get to her Midtown Manhattan office from Brooklyn Wednesday.

Ms. Linn expects the chapter to be deeply involved in the recovery effort. “There's a huge pro bono component to our chapter, and we do lots of volunteer work,” said Ms. Linn. “There are clients who have lost a lot and feel bad, but they are grateful to be alive. It puts things in perspective.”

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