Barron’s – March 10, 2021

For some of my clients, the coronavirus pandemic has been an intensely personal experience. They’re frontline Covid fighters and C-suite hospital executives around the country, and the long, pressure-filled hours, 12 months into a global health crisis, have left them exhausted to the point of despair.

I know this because my clients tell me. In turn, these insights have informed the financial planning strategies we employ to give them peace of mind along with long-term alternatives, sometimes in the context of career and lifestyle changes. Of course, healthcare professionals aren’t alone in a pandemic that has upended financial and career plans for wealth management clients and people generally around the globe.

But the coronavirus is exacting a particular toll on hospital workers, and there are ways advisors can help relieve some of the emotional stress these essential workplace leaders have to endure.

More than 50% of U.S. healthcare workers involved with Covid-19 response and treatment are at risk of having or developing mental health problems, according to a recent study in the Journal of Psychiatric Research. For hospital administrators, the pandemic has unleashed “a multitude of acute challenges including inadequate capacity, supply shortages, the need for care redesign, and financial loss,” each with mental health costs from burnout and compassion fatigue to post-traumatic stress disorder and “moral injury,” according to NEJM Catalyst, a journal focused on healthcare delivery.

But what does this have to do with my work as an advisor?

Primarily, I can offer physicians and top administrators a lifeline in the form of deep insights into their finances. In turn, this clarity gives them a much-needed sense of control against a backdrop of turmoil.

In addition to stress from long, emotionally charged hours, hospital workers live in fear of contracting the very disease they’re fighting. As of last September, close to 3,000 U.S. healthcare workers had died from Covid, when total U.S. deaths from the pandemic totaled around 175,000 — a tally that has since almost tripled.

Among other key findings advisors should take note of about the pandemic and healthcare workers:

— Nearly 70% of American physicians have battled “intense burnout during the pandemic,” with a similar percentage having seen their incomes drop, according to a report in The New York Times.

— In addition to addressing acute capacity issues, supply and financial shortfalls while working brutal hours, healthcare administrators are, like their frontline counterparts, seeing their take-home pay shrivel by as much as half since the pandemic began last March.

Some of my clients are now overwhelmed by their jobs, worried about their health and finances, and uncertain about their futures. Primed for big, well-paying jobs from the outset of their careers, some are now having second thoughts.

A number of my healthcare clients are contemplating early retirement. Others yearn for smaller positions with fewer direct reports, less travel, and more time for family, friends, and pastimes.

As a result, they’re coming to me with questions like:
— If I wanted to take a year off, could I?
— Could I afford to turn down a promotion I no longer want?
— What alternative income sources can I explore?

They know, or quickly learn, that career and lifestyle changes depend on a renewed understanding of their finances and, quite possibly, revamped financial plans.

With this in mind, I take a new look at their resources to help them achieve their new goals, or I suggest viable alternatives. My aim, as with all my clients, is to optimize their finances in service to their personal goals, not the other way around. And the key to that is financial planning, not as a “one and done,” but as an ongoing process, especially in times of crisis.

For example, a client who feels that early retirement, though desired, would be hard to swing financially, might like my help brainstorming around remote or local positions — possibly part time, possibly contract — that could offset lost income and preserve retirement savings. Retired senior administrators may take positions on healthcare boards, where their expertise is needed now more than ever.

But conversations around such outcomes arise most naturally from comprehensive financial planning.

When you’re under pressure, it’s nice to know you’re not alone. But once again, the best way advisors express solidarity with their clients is by taking time to understand them in light of changing circumstances, such as many of us have endured this past year. Clients want more than an advice-dispenser in hard times, they want a compassionate and expert co-pilot to help them steer them through the storm and into the clear.

Maybe there aren’t too many ways advisors can contribute to the common good in a public health crisis. One mission we can accomplish, however, is to make sure clients affected by it get thoughtful advice that supports their evolving goals.

In my experience, clients are overwhelmingly grateful when they’re shown they have viable career and lifestyle options — and reassured to know they’re just a phone call away if they happen to forget.

By Katherine Forrester Schneewind

Katherine Forrester Schneewind is founder and CEO of High Note Wealth, an independent RIA in Wayzata, Minn.

Dow Jones & Company, Inc.

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