As COVID-19 spread around the world and new physical distancing requirements took effect across Canada in the spring of 2020, it seemed as if everything was changing — and fast. At the same time, Ian Stock saw that, despite necessary adjustments, the essential aspects of his role hadn’t changed.
“It’s been a huge impact, but it hasn’t,” says the financial advisor with Edward Jones in Belleville, Ont. “It’s been a game changer for all of us, everywhere, in terms of how we’re interacting, but the basics in terms of maintaining contact and relationships with our clients are the same.”
Stock, who served in the military, has a healthy respect for routine. He found it helpful to stick to his schedule and keep working from his office (alone), although he’s fully set up to work from home.
“Edward Jones had my office built right around the corner from my house, so I’m able to carry on the exact same routine, other than the doors being locked and not being able to have face-to-face interactions with people,” he says.
“Maintaining routines — and that includes maintaining regular contact with our clients — is very reassuring, not only to our clients but to us as well.”
To support those conversations, Stock has drawn on the steady stream of information and materials Edward Jones has provided. He’s grateful that the firm’s home office staff and regional leadership teams are offering up much more than market commentary.
“They’re helping us see through the fog and have confidence that we’re all going to come out of this okay,” he says, explaining that he has received ready-to-use social media content on a wide variety of topics relevant to clients right now. “I’ve been leveraging a lot of that, and I’ve gotten a fantastic response,” he says.
“Everyone’s different and everyone responds differently, but, generally speaking, because we’re in a moment of history, people are unnerved. Sometimes just a phone call (‘I’m just calling to see how you’re doing’ or ‘I just want to make sure you’re okay’) — whether it’s an existing client or a potential client —speaks volumes,” he adds.
As a result of his proactive outreach, Stock was signing on new clients soon after the markets fell precipitously in mid-March. Existing clients began to refer their family members and friends, based on his response to the COVID-19 crisis.
“Through technology and a little bit of ingenuity, we’ve been able to bring on these new clients,” he says. “And we expect that to continue.”
“Maintaining routines — and that includes maintaining regular contact with our clients — is very reassuring, not only to our clients but to us as well.” - IAN STOCK
Kim MacInnis, an Edward Jones financial advisor in Charlottetown, PEI, had a similar experience, welcoming new business in the spring of 2020 despite market volatility. She attributes this to treating clients as whole people with concerns that go well beyond the financial.
“I’m really interested in people, and I love to hear their stories. I think now it’s more important than ever to reach out and just talk to people and hear what’s going on in their lives, because everyone has gone through such drastic changes,” she explains. “I’m constantly hearing from my clients that they feel like they’re valued. They feel like they’re appreciated, and they want to do business with me because they feel like what’s important to them is important to the firm.”
She appreciates the webpages Edward Jones quickly assembled to share “everything coronavirus” internally with advisors and employees and externally with clients. “It’s a trusted source for information,” she explains.
“It has created a sense of comfort for advisors, employees, and clients to have these resources available.”
That’s not to say the pandemic hasn’t brought with it some unusual challenges. For MacInnis, the biggest change has been working from home alongside her child, who is also at home while schools are closed. She appreciates that her Branch Office Administrator (BOA) is able to be at the office every day. “We’re able to follow all provincial, federal, and company guidelines around social distancing, yet we’re still able to work quite normally,” she says. “My clients can reach out and talk to my BOA all the time, and they have my cellphone number, so they’re able to contact me as well.”
MacInnis has been using WebEx liberally to review portfolios with her clients, sending them a link to join an online meeting that lets them see what’s on her computer screen. The goal is for clients to see exactly what they would do if they were meeting with her in her office — but from the comfort and physically distanced safety of their own homes.
“We’re all evolving through this,” she adds, acknowledging the effort all advisors are putting in to adapting to shifting norms.
“It’s more important than ever to reach out and just talk to people and hear what’s going on in their lives, because everyone has gone through such drastic changes.” - KIM MACINNIS
Financial advisors face many types of disruption during the course of their careers. There are the inevitable market dips; there are ever-changing regulations. And, for those who move firms, there are transitions to different offices, which encompass different processes.
How a firm handles an advisor’s transition from firm to firm may provide an indication of how it will handle other disruptions.
Kim MacInnis, for example, faced a number of challenges during her move to Edward Jones in 2017.
Perhaps the most significant challenge was a lack of control over the timing, because her previous office had given up its lease and was closing.
Fortunately, an Edward Jones advisor in her community had retired about nine months earlier. That meant there was an office ready for her to move into, and, because of the way Edward Jones structures its branch offices, she also inherited an experienced Branch Office Administrator (BOA) who helped her complete documents and understand new systems.
“I was able to come in here and just do my job, and people in the region were wonderful. They were coming over from different provinces, going through different things with me just to make sure I felt welcome and to answer any questions I asked. They really went above and beyond to help me with my transition,” she says. “It was very seamless for many of the clients, too. They were able to open their accounts, everything transferred over, and just continue to move forward with me.”
Ian Stock, too, was pleasantly surprised by the simplicity of his move to Edward Jones, also in 2017. “The decision to make the transition wasn’t taken lightly, because I knew it would be very impactful not only for me personally and professionally but also for my clients,” he says.
In his case, there was no existing Edward Jones office in his community, nor enough time to get his permanent new office constructed by the date he wanted to move. As a result, the transition team helped him open his new practice in a temporary office, where he started serving clients with the BOA who transitioned with him. Ten months later, he relocated into his current space.
Despite the logistical challenges of moving twice in a year, Stock says the transition went smoothly, and he’s grateful for the technology that makes it easy to retrieve client documents from the cloud whenever he needs them — whether there’s a pandemic or not.
Every year, J.D. Power conducts a study of investor satisfaction at 18 full-service investment firms. It evaluates eight factors: the financial advisor, account information, investment performance, firm interaction, product offerings, commissions and fees, information resources, and problem resolution. Edward Jones was the highest ranked firm in 2020, scoring 836 out of 1,000 in overall satisfaction — 46 points above the industry average.
› How will you help me through the transition to your firm?
› How will your technology support me and my clients, and how will I be trained on it?
› What will you do to help ensure the long-term growth of my business?
› How will my transition into retirement be handled?
Financial advisors are accustomed to thinking long term, and that may help them visualize life on the other side of COVID-19. Those who are well supported by their firms right now likely have a clearer path forward — but Kim MacInnis feels this is a chance for advisors who aren’t satisfied at their current firms to consider their options.
“It’s a very good opportunity to re-evaluate,” MacInnis says. She suggests advisors ask themselves, ‘Does your firm provide support for you and your clients, allowing you to always do what’s right for them?’
If not, now may be the time to start laying tracks toward a more satisfying future. “Believe in yourself,” says Ian Stock. “Yes, there’s a risk when transitioning to another firm, but if you believe you’ll overcome that risk, there are better opportunities out there.”
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