Finance: Navigating COVID-19 financially

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By Joe Collum and Shannon Rowan

The coronavirus crisis requires all that we have to offer – perseverance, patience, compassion and empathy – to guide clients and colleagues, while also caring for our loved ones.

This situation has introduced unprecedented financial challenges and hardships for both individuals and businesses. You name it: Synchronized market volatility, economic standstill, interest rate collapse, massive government intervention, energy upheaval, and so on, have defined this economic downturn.

Most of us have adjusted countless aspects of our lives in order to navigate more effectively the impact of COVID-19. Some of these changes may inform and influence the future. We are taking this opportunity to share a few suggestions.

Develop capabilities for managing your finances online

The most widespread change brought on by the pandemic is a transition to online for many activities typically done in person. For some people, this has required a learning curve along with the acquisition or upgrade of technology capabilities. Whether working from home, video conferencing with family and friends or receiving care by telemedicine, we have found new ways to forge ahead.

While it has been available for many years, some of our customers began using online banking for the first time during the past few months of being homebound. Businesses sought assistance through the Paycheck Protection Program loans made available by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act via an online application. And, of course, investors nervously kept watch over their investments via online access. These resources allowed people to remain better connected to their finances and likely helped ease some anxiety.

Consider engaging financial professionals

Although just about every function, whether social or business, seems to have moved online during this crisis, the importance of personalized contact for many services has been heightened.

For example, as market volatility spiked in March, some investors sought guidance regarding their portfolios. The velocity of the onset of an equity bear market was shocking with the S&P 500 Index declining 34 percent in just 22 trading sessions.

In the midst of this plummet, some online brokers fell short of meeting the needs and expectations of clients in providing relevant information and even access to their accounts. However, people who had access to a qualified advisor likely benefited from the perspective that years of training and experience can offer. Those who were able to hold on to quality investments have been rewarded as the market has since recovered significantly, approaching the all-time high reached in February.

Often, the greatest value a financial professional can provide is to keep people focused on their investment objectives, which should facilitate decisions consistent with meeting these goals.

Similarly, the introduction of the PPP loan process was fraught with confusion and access to the program was largely dependent upon the performance of your bank. Not every bank participated in the program and there were disparate results across those financial institutions that did participate. It’s notable that where banks were considered part of the problem in the 2008-09 financial crisis, they generally have been part of the solution in this crisis. In most cases, having a relationship with a banker was helpful in securing this lifeline for a business.

Have a plan

Clear awareness of your finances enables greater confidence during periods of uncertainty. This starts with knowing your income and expenses, ideally through a written budget. The visibility offered by a budget can help people more effectively make adjustments when necessary.

Often, the complexity of managing competing priorities, such as debt analysis, tax management and retirement planning, can render the process overwhelming. A financial planner can help integrate all of your personal and financial information and related decisions into a cohesive strategy. For example, a financial planner can help achieve the balance required between risk and return to provide both current income and portfolio stability, along with the growth needed to fulfill future obligations.

In reviewing your debt, a planner may identify an opportunity to improve current cash flow through a refinance of your mortgage as well as a source of funds to be used in case of an emergency.

Take action

Despite the many disagreements that abound today, we likely can agree that the future is as uncertain as ever. However, the various government assistance programs, along with the strong market rebound, offer an opportunity to reassess our plans and make adjustments where warranted. Now is the best time to take better control of your finances and help is available at your local bank.

The writers are executive vice presidents at Burke & Herbert Bank. Rowan is the director of wealth services and Collum is the director of branch and business banking.

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