Beltway-area advisors are rocked by the snowstorms of the century

Financial advisors are out shoveling like crazy but web connections minimize setbacks

Thursday 2.11.10 by Elizabeth MacBride

As I write this story I am looking out my home office window in Alexandria, Va., at a neighborhood transformed into an icy fortress. Seven-foot high towers of white frame my driveway, and the crenellations of snow make my cul-de-sac look like the top of a castle.

I’m a sixth-generation Washingtonian, and not in the whole span of my family’s history in the nation’s capital has there been a snow-week like this.

For something this big, you have to look back to the Washington-Jefferson snowstorm, which might have dumped 36 inches on the area and did shut down the region for more than a month.

What a difference 250 years makes. On Wednesday, while a blizzard howled outside my windows, I listened to a webcast of a conference call in New York and then reached experts from California and Dallas to comment on the story.

Multi-tasking machines

It wasn’t just me, typing madly away while the flakes fell. The snowstorms turned advisors all over the D.C. area into multi-tasking machines, juggling phones and laptops and taking breaks every once in a while to shovel.

Most, especially those with web-based portfolio management software, managed to keep doing business during the storms.

David Blisk, founder and principal of Spire Investment Partners in Tysons Corner, Va., was working two phones at once yesterday morning, me on one line; and a Dell computer repairman coming to look at Blisk’s laptop on the other.

“The office is closed,” he told the repairman. “But we’re just three minutes away, and the roads are good.”

Then he got back to me. “Can you call back on my wife’s phone?”

I finally reached Blenda Blisk, CEO of the Blisk Financial Group, an RIA that operates under Spire’s umbrella, for a scheduled interview.

Escaping the craziness

She talked from her bedroom, where she had gone to escape the craziness in the study downstairs, where her husband was running Spire.

Such was the scene in many a hard-working advisor’s home this week. Some people might have taken some time off. But the advisors and the staffs that I’ve met so far in my six months at RIABiz are what you’d call Type A’s. They keep going.

“Our office staff has been incredibly dedicated and probably bored at home,” said Barry Glassman, president of McClean, Va.-based Glassman Wealth Services. “They made it into the office most days this week.”

Like Glassman, Brian Ullsperger of Capital Fiduciary Advisors was able to manage from home.

“Technology is a wonderful thing,” Ullsperger said. “Being able to log in remotely, review portfolios and continue to communicate with clients hasn’t been too difficult. Other than canceling a few face-to-face meetings, it has been business as usual.”

No virtual snow shoveling?

Reed Colley, CEO and founder of Black Diamond Performance Reporting LLC says events like this storm help companies like his drive home the advantages of a web-based system.

“Without question,” he says. “The portability of our application gives advisors the opportunity to run a true virtual office, giving them huge gains in flexibility and efficiency.”

Yet Ullsperger said the biggest challenge has been balancing time to work with the need to shovel out 2-3 feet of snow.

Colley admits that his software has yet to be modified for that purpose: “We don’t offer outsourced snow shoveling!”

Exploring the limits of TV

For those of us with children, the bigger challenge might have been coping with cooped-up kids and disrupted school and childcare routines. To anyone who returned a call to my house this week and heard Dora the Explorer in the background, my apologies.

As service businesses, advisors, of course, were lucky. Restaurants and florists hoping for a boost from Valentine’s Day, not so much. From a broad economic point of view, a snowstorm is more a wash than you think it is: For an interesting look at the economics of snow, take a look at this “blog post”:

Barry Glassman

Fortigent | Blisk | Spire | Ullsperger | Capital Fiduciary Advisors | Glassman Wealth Services