Financial industry steps up in Harvey's wake

Individuals and firms are donating time and money to help storm victims

Aug 31, 2017 @ 2:13 pm

By Jeff Benjamin

As downgraded-to-a-tropical-depression Harvey moves across the country, the damage in its wake has left at least 32 people dead and displaced more than 32,000 Gulf Coast residents.

Also in the storm's wake: a financial services industry that seems eager to help in any way possible.

Firms both large and small have stepped up with internal initiatives, including donations, fund-raising challenges and personal volunteer efforts.

Taylor Nipp, a director at SFMG Wealth Advisors, a $1.2 billion firm in Plano, Texas, said his employees have been gathering essentials to send across the state to storm victims. The supplies, including diapers, clothing and hygiene items will be trucked to the Houston area on Friday, he said.

But Mr. Nipp and his wife will also be joining a friend who is flying in from California for a drive to the Houston area "to spend the weekend basically volunteering anywhere we're needed."

"You're seeing so many people having everything taken away from them; you just want to do whatever you can to help," he said.

The Nipps are not alone. The grim images spreading across social media has inspired the spirit of giving from literally all corners of the financial services industry.

Leon LaBrecque, managing partner and CEO at Lansing, Mich.-based LJPR Financial Advisors, has encouraged his employees to make donations by offering to double any contributions up to $300.

"Our employees have reacted positively, with most of them donating directly to the Red Cross," said Mr. LaBrecque, who manages $707 million in client assets.

Mark Matson, chief executive at Matson Money, a $7.9 billion advisory firm in Scottsdale, Ariz., took $25,000 out of his family foundation and sent it to the Red Cross for Harvey victims. "We sent out the challenge to donate to our more than 400 advisers, including 60 in Texas," he said. As of Wednesday, the advisers contributed more than $6,200, Mr. Matson said.

"It is just an emotional, gut-wrenching reaction to watching the human suffering of people stranded on their rooftops or sitting in nursing homes with the water rising around them," he added. "We're big believers in capitalism and the wealth and freedom it creates, and I think there's a moral obligation for anybody who benefits from capitalism to help out in times like these."

The flood waters across parts of Texas and Louisiana, which could take weeks to recede in some areas, are estimated to leave $50 billion worth of property damage. In times of such need, the argument can easily be made that citizens of the wealthiest nation in the world should feel an obligation to step up. But for most of those volunteering time, money and shelter, it seems to boil down to basic human decency.

"Two of our employees' husbands have been out there physically rescuing people with the support of our employees, one of our traders has fostered a storm pup, and everyone here has contributed their own money," said Jonathan Swanburg, a Houston-based adviser at Tri-Star Advisors.

Mr. Swanburg, who by Monday had to relocate his family three separate times to escape the rising waters, spent Wednesday kayaking through neighborhoods looking for people needing help.

Some larger financial institutions have sprung into action by allocating funds for donations and securing affected local offices.

A spokesman for Charles Schwab Corp. said The Charles Schwab Foundation is granting "an initial $50,000 to several non-profits providing aid."

"We are also supporting our partner non-profits, Boys & Girls Clubs of America and Donors Choose, to help clubs and classrooms damaged by the storm," said Schwab spokesman Rob Farmer. He added that The Foundation is also offering a two-for-one match, up to a total of $100,000 for employee contributions.

At TD Ameritrade, a special microsite has been created to help advisers donate money more easily. And on Wednesday, TD announced it will be matching donations from employees, retail clients and RIA clients of up to $500,000. For any clients in the storm-affected areas, TD will also be reimbursing many of the fees related to getting access to money for the remainder of the year.

A spokesman from BNY Mellon's Pershing issued the following statement:

"BNY Mellon is providing an immediate contribution to the Hurricane Harvey Fund of the American Red Cross in support of relief efforts for individuals and the states impacted by Hurricane Harvey. The company is also matching donations made by employees through the company's Community Partnership program."

At Fidelity Investments, spokeswoman Kate Taylor said the company has been connecting with organizations in the impacted areas "to understand how Fidelity and its employees can help in the most effective way." In the meantime, Ms. Taylor said that between Friday, Aug. 25 and Tuesday, Aug. 29, a total of $3.8 million was directed to hurricane relief efforts through 2,069 grants recommended by donors at Fidelity Charitable, the donor-advised fund affiliated with Fidelity Investments.

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