Flu taking advisers — and clients — down 'like soldiers'

Reps out sick, meetings rescheduled; 'couldn't even lift my head up'

Jan 16, 2013 @ 1:04 pm

By Liz Skinner

Financial advisers are arming their offices with hand sanitizer and turning sick employees and customers away in hopes of preventing this year's virulent strain of the flu from sidelining them.

But like other U.S. employers that are expected to incur billions in influenza-related losses this winter, some advisers or their staff have fallen ill and have had to crawl into bed for up to a week to recover.

Jeffrey Cutter, a former officer in the Merchant Marine, doesn't recall ever having been out of work due to an illness in the 12 years since founding Cutter Financial Group LLC. That is, until last week, when the flu epidemic that's sweeping the nation kept him home for two days.

“It came on like a ton of bricks,” Mr. Cutter said from his Falmouth, Mass., office. “I am a Type A personality with a triple plus, I'm always on, and I couldn't even lift my head up.”

The Center for Disease Control said that this year's flu season, which ramped up earlier than usual and could go on through March, is the worst outbreak in a decade.

Health officials believe that the disease — which has killed at least 20 children nationwide this flu season — has peaked in some regions of the country but remains on the upswing in other areas. Massachusetts, where Mr. Cutter lives with his wife and three daughters, has been one of the hardest-hit states.

In addition to delays from Mr. Cutter's time out of commission, about 65% of Cutter Financial Group's meetings in the past couple weeks have had to be rescheduled because of sick clients.

Near Denver, adviser James Osborne of Bason Asset Management said he knows a number of colleagues and other professionals who have been out of work for a week with this year's flu virus.

Mr. Osborne has had to reschedule many meetings in recent weeks because his clients have been ill, causing business delays and lost productivity, he said. Meanwhile, Mr. Osborne has been using extra hand sanitizer and trying to steer clear of people whenever possible. That's easier for him than for many because he is the only employee of Bason Asset Management.

“That's one advantage of being a sole practitioner this year,” Mr. Osborne said. “It beats being in a big office where it almost seems guaranteed that the flu is going to go around.”

One office that's been hit especially hard is the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors' headquarters near Chicago. Each of its 10-member staff has been out with the flu or a cold over the past three or four weeks.

“We went down like soldiers, one right after the other,” said Ellen Turf, chief executive of NAPFA.

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