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Oh, snow! But advisers use tech to keep business humming

Feb 13, 2014 @ 12:52 pm

By Liz Skinner

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Like many financial advisers in the Southeastern United States this week, Jennifer and Phil Calandra closed the doors to their Atlanta-based advisory firm on Wednesday and Thursday and operated from their home.

“When you live in Georgia, to see any snow is mindboggling,” Ms. Calandra said.

She said the state's response to this week's storm, with the governor declaring a state of emergency for parts of Georgia before the first snowflake fell, helped Atlanta handle the conditions better than two weeks ago, when icy roads left tens of thousands of motorists stranded. During that storm, the Calandras' 13-year-old son had to spend a night at school with hundreds of other students.

Ms. Calandra estimated that only about three inches of snow fell near her, but she said neither the state nor its citizens are really prepared to deal with even that much because snow is such an infrequent event.

“In Georgia, we're just waiting for it to thaw,” she said.

The Calandras, who co-founded the firm, called clients to cancel meetings, switched some to phone meetings and rescheduled others. Most things they were able to do for clients remotely.

The storm, dubbed “Winter Storm Pax,” dropped two rounds of snow and ice across the South from Monday through early Thursday and is set to continue spreading heavy snow across the Northeast into early Friday.

At Abacus Planning Group in Columbia, S.C., the storm provided a chance for the firm to live test its emergency preparations.

“I'm grateful we've been able to find out where the holes are when it's not really an emergency,” said Cheryl Holland, an adviser with Abacus.

One thing the firm plans to improve is the way work phone lines are transferred to employees' homes. At the moment, they can't figure out how to make the physical phones ring when the calls are coming through, she said.

Ms. Holland and three others at Abacus were able to walk to their offices on Wednesday and Thursday while the rest of the staff worked remotely. They've told clients they are available to meet, but so far everyone has chosen to reschedule their meetings.

In the New York region, the number of snow storms that have hit the area is starting to take a toll on advisers.

A lot of client meetings have been rescheduled — sometimes more than once when another storm comes through on the reset day, said Maura Griffin, chief executive officer of Blue Spark Capital Advisors in New York.

The days that have been clear have become very full, she said.

“There's been several very long days of back-to-back meetings because everything is having to be rescheduled,” Ms. Griffin said.

The offices of Morristown, N.J.-based RegentAtlantic Capital were closed Thursday and its advisers were working remotely. It's been the only day this winter that the firm has had to shut its doors.

“Thankfully we moved most of the stuff to the cloud,” said Christopher Cordaro, managing partner at RegentAtlantic. “We can do just about anything from our homes now.”

For Russ Thornton, an adviser with Wealthcare Capital Management in Atlanta, it's almost business as usual because he operates from his home. He's staying put today and has rescheduled meetings, for the second time in some cases.

He said he'd like to think that Atlanta's two snow events are it for this winter.

“Hopefully this doesn't become an every-two-week kind of a thing,” he said.

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