As coronavirus spreads, firms hit the brakes on adviser travel

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Wealth managers have dealt with hurricanes, the dotcom bubble, a financial crisis, Black Monday and a Flash Crash. Now, they have to contend with a new threat: Coronavirus.

To do that, they’re curtailing traveling, asking employees potentially exposed to the virus to work from home and readying more stringent measures, though firms have yet to instruct advisors to postpone or cancel client meetings.

RBC Wealth Management is consulting with its chief medical officer as well as the global health authorities on guidelines for employee wellness and travel, according to a spokesman for the firm, which has more than 2,000 advisers.

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“For advisers specifically, the adviser-client relationship is the cornerstone of our business and, as such, there are several avenues for these parties to interact, both in person and remotely, to ensure clients’ needs are fully met. At this time, client meetings and advisor travel within the United States are based on client, advisor and local management preference and discretion,” the firm said in a statement.

Likewise, Edelman Financial Engines is ensuring employees can not only operate outside the office, but are ready to do so.

“We are taking laptops home, testing remote access to ensure responsibilities can be completed from home, etc., in case there needs to be an office closure,” Jason Van de Loo, head of retail and marketing, says in an email.

Edelman does “not want any disruption for our clients,” he says.

The virus is a new respiratory disease which originated in China, and has since leapfrogged to other regions, infecting tens of thousands of people in that country as well as South Korea, Iran, Italy and elsewhere. A top advisor to Iran’s supreme leader died of the virus earlier this week. In Italy, authorities have quarantined entire towns in Lombardy, an important economic region in the country’s north.

The rate of confirmed cases has skyrocketed in the U.S. As of March 3, there were 60 confirmed cases, according to the CDC up from 43 only a few days before. Six individuals have died. New cases have appeared in New York and Seattle.

The virus is thought to spread mainly from person-to-person, according to the CDC. Symptoms — including fever, cough and shortness of breath — may appear between two and 14 days after exposure.

Wealth management firms say they are closely watching for additional guidance from health authorities. Meanwhile, some are relying on existing methods for addressing crises.

A spokesman for Edward Jones, which has more than 18,000 financial advisers and $1.3 trillion in assets, says the firm has infrastructure and procedures in place “for very difficult situations like this.”

“Our extensive network is equipped to manage these issues and we have plans in place to ensure our clients are able to access their funds,” the spokesman said, declining to share details about the firm’s plan.

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