Coronacrash Update: BNY Mellon | Pershing’s Ben Harrison & Tony Sirianni
Advisor Hub CEO Tony Sirianni recently had a chance to sit down for a conversation with BNY Mellon | Pershing’s Managing Director of Advisor Solutions — Ben Harrison, to discuss what the last months have been like at BNY Mellon | Pershing and his views of what the industry might look like coming out of this crisis.
(NOTE: Harrison will be succeeding Mark Tibergien as head of Advisor Solutions as of June 1)
The last few months have been unprecedented and unexpected, a perfect storm if you will, of management challenges both on the employee and client level. You have had to deal with employee safety issues that no executive has training for, and a directly correlated market crash. What have you implemented at your firm to address this dual threat?
In relation to the COVID-19 pandemic, the most important thing we did was to be prepared. While no one could have prepared or imagined a crisis of this kind, we had the business continuity and resiliency plans in place that allowed us to move quickly and decisively to a remote work arrangement to help safeguard the health and wellbeing of our people and continue to support clients.
We know that our employees are our most important asset, and this crisis further underscored the importance of putting our people first. To help employees manage stress during this unprecedented pandemic, we have made every effort to provide added flexibility as well as resources to support their physical and emotional well-being.
From the beginning, we erred on the side of over communicating with our clients to ensure that they had the support and the resources they needed to access our technology, process their work and move to a highly digital environment.
And we did all this without missing a beat. Our employees rose to the occasion with great energy and collaboration, providing our clients with superior service even as we experienced unprecedented levels of activity.
How about the continuing market volatility? What are you telling your advisors to do and what are you hearing from clients?
High levels of market volatility particularly in March meant that advisors had to manage not only the transition of their operations and employees to a remote environment, but also show up for clients who now more than ever needed their advice.
We saw advisors increase their communications to clients dramatically in a very short period of time, tapping into all available communications tools, including social media, video, email, etc., to provide guidance not just on investments, but also help clients deal with anxiety, and make important long-term financial and life decisions amidst a rapidly unfolding pandemic.
If nothing else, this crisis further underscored the importance of the emotional quotient in the advisor-client relationship and demonstrated that nothing can replace the human touch and the trust an advisor can provide.
What about the economy longer term? Where do you think we will be in 6 months, and how can advisors and their clients take advantage of that long term direction?
The world as we know it has changed. Now that we have learned to function in this virtual environment, there will be long-lasting implications on how we work together.
I anticipate continued adoption of digital and interactive technologies by advisors and clients, forcing those firms who weren’t serious about digitization to quickly ramp up.
Further, I think we will see advisors positioning themselves to capitalize on the opportunities created by the increasing demand for financial advice. In that respect, building trust with clients and prospects through consistent, authentic and more creative communications will be critical to future success.
What about our business? What do you think the long term impact of this dual crisis will be on the advisor business model?
Now more than ever people need holistic financial advice.
I believe the long term impact of this dual crisis will be the heightened role of the advisor and the growing demand for advice.
The crisis underscored the importance of a steady hand at the wheel in times of turmoil. And we’ve seen this in our business. While there have been some shifts in equity positions and some rebalancing and tax loss harvesting, overall, we haven’t seen drastic changes in our clients’ asset allocations through the crisis.
Looking ahead, I am bullish on holistic advice and the fiduciary model. I believe that advisory firms who are able to evolve and effectively adapt to this new digital environment are going to be the ones that have staying power.
So these things tend to bring out the good and the bad in people. What has most encouraged you, what have you seen that’s reaffirmed your faith in our community and how its handling these difficult times?
It’s been truly remarkable to see so many people come together to contribute to their communities, support employees and look for ways to turn a very challenging environment into an opportunity to do good.
For example, our company donated 600 tablets to the NYC Health + Hospitals system.
Our CEO Todd Gibbons committed to no layoffs in 2020, calling it “the right thing to do at a time when the pandemic is creating so many personal uncertainties for our people.”
BNY Mellon also launched a COVID-19 Relief and Response Campaign where the company matches employee donations to eligible charities 2:1. We have raised nearly $1 million in employee and company matching donations through this campaign.
As trustee of the Foundation for Financial Planning, I personally have been observing the pro-bono financial advice program provided by the Foundation to those most in need, including front line workers, teachers, small business owners, etc.
Looking ahead, I think this crisis will be a defining moment for all organizations, as key stakeholders evaluate how they fared in their treatment of employees, how they showed up in their communities, and whether they had the right systems and plans in place to manage their business with minimal or no disruption in the most disruptive of times.
Especially as we move to a fully digital operating environment, there will be new premiums placed on trust and stability, transparency, emotional intelligence and, overall, firms’ likelihood of doing the right thing when it matters the most.