08 Apr Reflections on a global pandemic: a Netto year in review
The immediate impact
When faced with news of the impending total lockdown we could not help but feel a sense of disbelief. Following some frenetic activity to ensure we had everything we needed (and a few things we did not), the absolute silence in an urban city environment was surreal. It was as if life had changed in an instant, yet in many ways, it was the same as ever. We wondered if this is what it felt like at the declaration of the Second World War – the calm before the storm, which was certainly inevitable after turning off the entire economy.
Starting early made a difference
Netto made the call to send our team home the week before the lockdown. This gave us time to practise working and communicating remotely. It also gave us time to solve some of the technical, logistical, and practical problems we encountered. We were able to remedy these while the team could still move around, and this helped us to be more prepared. There is no substitute for practice and being proactive.
Purposeful communication was key
Compensating for the loss of the collaborative energetic culture in the office was a challenge. We had to be purposeful about scheduling regular video conferences with the various teams. Work issues were handled via calls, messages, and email, while video conferences were important for personal connection as well as work communication. We were fortunate to have very few infections over the past year, and the team coped well. Families with small children had it tough, which highlighted the importance of family and friends in raising children. In certain cases, we stepped in to provide additional support.
A thorough initial client engagement process is a worthwhile investment
Our primary purpose is to help clients make better decisions by understanding the choices and consequences of different investment strategy decisions. Our objective is to help them to retain control and make purposeful decisions regarding different levels of uncertainty. We therefore invest a lot of time upfront engaging with clients and believe this helps them to have confidence in the process. We started lockdown by making outbound calls to check in with clients and were encouraged by the level of calm we encountered.
Some clients had to deal with reduced or no income for a period and having an emergency fund, or some liquid investments, made all the difference. There is an important balance between liquidity and long-term return, and it was reassuring to see the value of an emergency fund strategy as a vital component of managing risk.
Diversification – positioning investment for more than one future outcome
A prudently balanced diverse range of investment funds aligned to our clients’ specific performance targets supported by their personalised investment plan in many cases reduced anxiety and provided clarity of purpose. Clients had the time to engage with us and for us to listen and clarify the background for their current financial plans and optimise the possible ways forward within a holistic framework. Sticking to investment strategy and anchoring to the reasons for investing in the selected strategy were key themes.
Chaos needs clear thinking, and clear thinking needs practice
We realised through our many discussions that it is hard to practise strategic decision-making on your own. By their very nature, strategic decisions are those that are made annually rather than weekly, so the average person gets limited opportunity to practise often. As financial planners, we work with clients multiple times a day, every day of the week, on strategic decision-making. The perspective that arises from being plugged into the minds of the investing public becomes a useful resource for clients during times of crisis.
Living within your means
Those living within their means were less affected and did not feel the impact as much. Having said that, spending priorities changed substantially as there was nothing much to spend on. We were hardly commuting to work, eating out, shopping, driving much or travelling for leisure. Clients experienced how little material assets mattered versus seeing their friends and family. We wonder if this revelation may reduce our financial desires versus spending time with loved ones in the next few years.
The importance of insurance
The importance of insurance and medical cover came to the fore as the virus spread and got closer to infecting families and friends. For those that were very ill, medical aid, travel insurance and income protection was a vital resource. We processed several Covid-19-related claims. Sadly, we lost a staff member during the period to illness and our company group life insurance was vital to support her family. As a result, we focused afresh on the team’s beneficiary appointments on the group insurance so we could guide them to optimise this in the event of a claim.
Caring for the needy
We were overwhelmed by the mobilisation of many in the community rallying to support the many in need.
Meaning and purpose
Ultimately, our only legacy is the impact we have on those around us. We are fortunate to have been kept purposefully busy during this period and in constant contact with people with whom we have a caring connection. There are many whose stage of life, line of work, or circumstances have been such that they have struggled during this time. They are in our thoughts and we wish them the recovery they deserve. We have all had to re-think our WHY!