What a Wild Year It Has Been

With more than 50% of adult Americans now fully vaccinated from COVID, the world is slowly reopening. My last trip for business was a day trip to Colorado on March 10, 2020, to meet with a college. The vice president for finance was called away mid-meeting, and before the meeting had been concluded, the college had canceled in-person classes for the remainder of the year. I flew home without a mask, convinced the Denver airport was one of the best places to contract COVID and that I may be bringing it home to my family. Alas, I didn’t; my throat was sore from talking too much.

By Wednesday, March 11, we had closed our offices and begun looking for new ways to work together and with our clients. While the world was frightened about how the pandemic would play out, our clients needed immediate assistance. By March 12, the S&P had declined by more than 15%, and by the 23rd, it was down more than 30%.

Then on Friday, March 27, the President signed the CARES Act, which provided the possibility of opening the private retirement system for increased loans and distributions to support participants. By Monday, the 30th we were meeting with committees to review CARES Act features and make determinations on how best to proceed.

On April 1, we had revised our quarterly all company training and development to host the meeting virtually. By the end of April, we worked with clients to address cost savings measures necessitated by the pandemic and anticipate how layoffs may impact partial plan termination provisions.

The work was a welcome distraction from how the pandemic was impacting the world and my worry for family and a team I was so proud to work with.

In the fourteen months since we’ve been refining and improving how we connect with our clients and support them in their mission to manage more effective and efficient retirement plans. I was asked by a provider how many of our clients cannot, or do not, want to meet with us given how the pandemic has caused organizations to scramble and adjust. It hadn’t occurred to me until that moment that the answer was nearly none. We’re proud to work with a group of clients that universally cares and invests in the health of their plan and employees. Meetings have needed to be rescheduled or shortened to accommodate the new environment, but many of our clients are meeting more frequently and accomplishing more on their retirement plans than before the pandemic.

Our consulting team met recently to discuss what we learned as an organization and about our clients coming out of the pandemic.

We miss one another and our clients – Zoom fatigue is real. I see my coworkers and clients on the screen every day and yet I still miss them. I miss the casual conversations before meetings and after.

We are better together – I work with a diverse and tremendously passionate group of consultants and analysts. The pandemic has allowed us to work together (albeit apart) on projects that impact our clients and the financial health of their participants. By working together and proactively rather than individually and reactively, we have accomplished more for our clients.

The needs of our clients are changing – I have frequently heard COVID referred to as an accelerant rather than an agent of change. The move to operating more digitally from in-person meetings was occurring, the last year has merely moved that timeline forward more quickly than we could have anticipated.

What happens between meetings is as important as what happens within meetings – The days of loading decisions into four neat meetings have been gone for some time, and the pandemic has revealed that. Working with our clients to develop a more defined set of objectives has allowed us to leverage meetings more efficiently and accomplish more for participants.

Everyone expects greater flexibility – Many clients may never return to an in-office M-F 9-5 schedule. Time commuting impacts quality of life. When our home office teams return, it will be under fundamentally different model. Most will be in the office Tuesday through Thursday with the flexibility to work remotely Mondays and Fridays.

We have a role to play in reducing our impact on the environment – From printing pounds of paper each year, to hopping from city to city for meetings, we found our work could be delivered more effectively remotely.

We’re excited about what the future holds – If the narrative of COVID as an accelerant holds, the pandemic has seen so many firms in our industry cede their independence in favor of an acquisition. As we look forward, true independence is one of the pillars upon which the private retirement system relies to function. We’re excited to continue to be a voice of advocacy for the participants that rely on these plans for financial independence.

We’re also excited to share with you the new tools and approaches to ensure the wheel of fiduciary prudence is one that moves your plan forward to a more perfect plan and not one that spins like a hamster wheel.

On June 24, the chairs of our three governance committees and myself will hold a webinar to discuss this very topic. We hope you will join! Click here to register.

I would be remiss if I didn’t take a minute to thank our clients, our employees, and our partners. To our clients, I cannot begin to express the honor it is to serve and advocate on behalf of you and your employees. Thank you for your trust. To my coworkers, thank you for your flexibility, passion, and creativity. Your work and insights have made us better. To our partners, law firms, auditors, recordkeepers, etc., thank you for continuing to work and improve through this pandemic.

Multnomah Group is a registered investment adviser, registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission. Any information contained herein or on Multnomah Group’s website is provided for educational purposes only and does not intend to make an offer or solicitation for the sale or purchase of any specific securities, investments, or investment strategies. Investments involve risk and, unless otherwise stated, are not guaranteed. Multnomah Group does not provide legal or tax advice. Any views expressed herein are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of Multnomah Group or Multnomah Group’s clients.

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