Few countries have suffered from the outbreak of covid-19 as badly as Italy.
Every business is shut down, with the exception of supermarkets, pharmacies and necessary goods providers – such as phone and electronic appliance shops.
As a result, financial advisers and wealth managers are facing incredibly tough conditions to just carry out their daily jobs.
International Adviser spoke with Valiant Wealth and Deutsche Bank Wealth Management in Italy to understand how their roles and work patterns have changed.
While many industry professionals have touted technology as the answer to all woes and worries, it has really proved to be the case for the two Italian businesses.
Tom Goold, international financial planning adviser at Valiant Wealth, said: “Being under quarantine in Italy probably looks worse from the outside than it really is. There’s a really strong collective mentality here and people are getting on with it.
“These are difficult times for the economy and anyone working with a financial adviser will be looking for reassurances. Our role is as much about managing relationships as it is about managing finances.
“We’ve been actively keeping in touch with our clients in Italy and elsewhere in the world to make sure people understand the situation and aren’t being drawn into panic by the bad headlines.
“We also need to keep in touch to see how people are on a personal level, as we value the relationships and the wellbeing of our clients.
“As we look after clients spread across the world, we are used to managing relationships remotely and it’s certainly a lot easier these days thanks to video calling and Whatsapp, so being under quarantine hasn’t impacted us at all in that respect.
“What we all need now is some good news to give us a light at the end of the tunnel to focus on. This will bring back confidence and create a good opportunity for people looking to invest money and benefit from the recovery.
“Hopefully, Italy can provide this hope as we see the quarantine measures having their desired effect and reducing the number of new cases,” Goold added.
Deutsche Bank Wealth Management (DBWM) in Italy has had a similar response, and has stepped up its use of tech, tools and software and boosted its operations through its digital channels.
“Deutsche Bank WM team in Italy reacted promptly to the first information of covid-19 diffusion in the country,” said Roberto Coletta, head of wealth management at Deutsche Bank in Italy.
“The Italian division has seven offices and a hub in Milan for UHNW customers for a total of 38 bankers in the main Italian cities, and it was already well organised with a digital customer contact platform that allowed to operate on the markets in real time for the sale or purchase of securities and funds.
“The Italian team immediately intensified the dialogue with the customers worried about market conditions and portfolios performance. The bankers have proactively contacted customers, knowing their risk profiles well, and anticipated their needs and expectations.
“The team reacted very well to the market crisis generated by covid-19 confirming the effectiveness of a holistic approach to consulting, with a typical criterion for the third millennium, where logistics and the ‘tangible’ aspect are losing ground versus skills, professionalism and empathy.
“At this stage, research support from Deutsche Bank and the CIO was instrumental in examining the markets quickly and in detail. The research sector intensified the frequency of reports that have been used to support dialogue with customers and, in some cases, as the most expert customers, have been sent directly,” he added.
What about investments?
As wealth managers increased their points of contact with clients, they also said there are opportunities arising from the coronavirus-hit market.
Coletta continued: “Most of DBWM Italia’s customers are conservative customers, entrepreneurs who do not expose their portfolios to unnecessary risk. Their portfolios suffered very little from the performance of the stock markets in recent weeks because many of them had previously been stripped of risky assets some months ago, after six years of profits by equities.
“The clients that were most affected by the market crisis were mainly the ones who acted in autonomous determination.
“It should also be said that the market in these moments of extreme volatility presents excellent opportunities that in some cases are worth taking, if in line with one’s own risk profile and investment goal.
“As for bond portfolios, that could be exposed to light default risks in a recession context,” he said.
“Internally, work has also increased significantly. In addition to the ordinary activities carried out mainly from home, two daily quick calls have been set up with the representatives from the various areas to inquire and coordinate the relevant issues of our customers.”
Coletta said that thanks to the bank’s employees’ receptiveness to a drastic change in work schedules and activities, there has been very little impact to client portfolios.
“I would like to sincerely thank all the colleagues who promptly and professionally reacted to the requests received from customers in this complex situation.
“Hard work with a very good team has already shown first results, both in portfolios’ trend and customer satisfaction. I hope that all this will end soon, and we can quickly restore normal life with our colleagues and our clients,” he added.