Like Trump? Hate Trump? What happens when politics bubbles up at advisory firms

Advisers discourage partisan rants at the office while some find other places to take up political discussions

Jan 19, 2017 @ 1:08 pm

By Liz Skinner

Polarized political discussions are running high following the contentious U.S. presidential election, but most advisory firms are directing their employees to keep politics out of the office.

Some have set a special time for employees to air their opinions, while others have used humor to diffuse heated arguments. Televisions will be on in the background Friday at some advisory firms, but many others will leave coverage of Donald Trump's inauguration off to avoid conflict, advisers said.

“We have an office very split on the political topics of the day,” said Mark Germain, founder of Beacon Wealth Management in Hackensack, N.J.

Some of his employees were so upset after the election that Mr. Germain held a team meeting. He recommended saving the heated political discussions for the firm's monthly happy hour that's held out of the office.

“We discussed that we cannot change the results, that we can only support our country and the process,” Mr. Germain said. “I suggested if the beliefs are so strong they may want to get involved outside the office.”

(More: As Donald Trump takes office watch for action on these adviser issues)

Beacon Wealth Management's employees do discuss the impact of the new president on investments, so that they're all able to speak with clients about the "Trump bump," the rise in equity markets since Donald Trump's election, and a possible "Trump dump," a market decline after he becomes commander-in-chief.

At Oxygen Financial, an Atlanta firm focused on serving Generation X and millennial clients, co-chief executive Ted Jenkin said his firm is liberal about letting employees talk about their personal politics in the office. There haven't been any fist fights around the water cooler yet, or in Oxygen Financial's case, around the cappuccino maker.

“There have been heated discussions because you have a mix of people who vote on the left wing and from the right wing,” he said.

The firm encourages advisers to be themselves, even with clients, because strong feelings are likely to come out in the way they advise clients over the long term.

“Advisers should be working with clients because they mutually like and trust each other,” Mr. Jenkin said. “If you're just doing business with them, and don't believe in anything that they believe in, that's not going to work out best for either of you.”

Laurie Burkhardt, a wealth manager at Modera Wealth Management in Boston, said many people in the office were upset with the election results. However, they're trying to keep the conversations outside the office.

She and some like-minded colleagues have started meeting for lunch or for a daily walk up 13 flights of stairs “during which we commiserate,” sharing their fears and anxieties with each other.

(More: Advisers and clients worry about Obamacare changes under Trump)

Leon LaBrecque, chief executive of LJPR Financial Advisors in Troy, Mich., said he tries to keep things lighthearted when he sees political battle lines being drawn at the office.

For instance, when a Hillary Clinton supporter and a Trump backer began to bicker at the office, Mr. LaBrecque said, “I wonder what the SEC would do if we erased several thousand e-mails, but I also wonder how many clients we'd have if we said things like The Donald?”

He always uses a “filter” for his own interactions with co-workers, as he does with clients, and he tries to stay neutral.

At Roof Advisory Group in Harrisburg, Penn., president Jeffrey Roof said his firm of eight has a wide diversity of political viewpoints.

But they discourage in-depth political discussions at work.

“We try to keep personal politics out of the office,” he said. “It's a matter of mutual respect for people's opinions.”

Armond Dinverno, cofounder of Balasa, Dinverno and Foltz in Chicago, said everyone engaged in political conversations in his office has remained respectful of each other.

On Friday, his firm won't be watching the inauguration of Mr. Trump because it doesn't have a television – at least most of the time.

“We don't have TVs around here because we don't respond to daily news and that's not how we like to think about our role for clients,” Mr. Dinverno said.

They do make an exception for special sports events.

“We did bring one in when the Chicago Cubs were in the race for the World Series.”

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