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The Slow Pace of Fast Change in a Post-COVID World

The Slow Pace of Fast Change in a Post-COVID World

One of my favorite (perhaps apochryphal) quotes comes from the French novelist Gustav Flaubert who, while surveying Paris during the Franco-Prussian War of 1871 declared, “After all of this, we will still be stupid.” And while Flaubert’s view of human nature is perhaps slightly more negative than mine, I do think that one of the things at which we excel as a species is overstating the long term effects of recent or current events.  

That quote came to mind when I saw this morning’s headline from the Wall Street Journal: “Europe Lease Deals Suggest Traditional Office Will Endure in Post-Covid World.” The assumption at work in this headline is that a universally accepted truth in a post-COVID world has been that real estate rentals were going to take a hit, as businesses would all shift to work from home via Zoom and the various other productivity apps that link us. However, as this article suggests, the shift away from traditional offices to full-time remote working will likely not happen overnight.  

We have seen a sharp decline in travel in this pandemic, since even in the best circumstances, airplanes tend to be petri dishes of disease. However, this is not the first time that the industry has faced an existential crisis. Recall the predictions about the industry’s demise during the climate of fear immediately after 9/11. Students of history will remember that not two months later, a plane crashed outside of New York City, and, in December of 2001, the infamous shoe bomber was also arrested, compounding the fear of flying that was already in the atmosphere. Similarly, in an article in the Financial Times, airline experts believe that the industry will change– more point-to-point flights, perhaps fewer giant planes– but that ultimately, according to former head of British Airways Sir Rod Eddington, “if we get a vaccine, people will be back to normal in a year.”

None of this is to say change won’t happen– perhaps men will start washing their hands after going to the bathroom more— but the changes will be more subtle and less dramatic than we think. And, like taking our shoes off when we board airplanes, they will likely soon become the new normal.  

Perhaps the greatest confirmation of the fact that the ways of the world will be slow to change is that I, who passionately embraced working from home (almost as much as my dog), am writing this to you from our office on the corner of Glenway and Monroe.    

 

Keith Poniewaz

 

Post-Lockdown Changes & Predictions

Post-Lockdown Changes & Predictions

It is a rare event that impacts the entire world. COVID-19 has changed our way of life in the short term, with long-lasting ramifications yet to be determined. In the context of our business at Walkner Condon, we have some items that we believe will be permanently affected and some guesses on others.

More Virtual Meetings

We have offered video appointments for a number of years now, and with the exception of Keith (who works with expats across the globe), very few of our meetings have been conducted virtually. We expect this to change, as our clients and prospective clients have increasingly become much more comfortable with Zoom meetings. With the added comfort of our clients, and frankly, the comfort of our advisors as well, we’ve found that we are able to offer a very similar experience to an in-office meeting. We plan on continuing to offer these meetings, and are likely to schedule “home office days” where we conduct our meetings virtually in the future.

Screen sharing allows us to work collaboratively with our clients in many different ways – including administrative tasks where paperwork is involved, as well as sharing financial plans and allocation information. If you haven’t seen us in a while, now might be a great time to schedule that Zoom meeting! Additionally, for those clients that may have been hesitant to recommend us to their friends and family members outside of Dane County, we want to let you know that we are well-equipped to help them as well, and would welcome the introduction.

Increase in Customized Asset Management Offerings

When you are able to take time to work on your business instead of in your business, that’s when we have found unique solutions for client needs. In analyzing feedback from clients and meeting as an investment team, we will be building out customized portfolios using individual equities. Currently, we are looking at developing a few core models, focusing for now on U.S. large cap stocks with strong balance sheets, as well as U.S. small and mid cap stocks. In the future, we anticipate rounding these out with additional models, including a focus on ESG (environmental, social, governance) factors and international stocks.

The barrier to entry on many of these in the past has been “ticket” charges charged by the custodian per trade, as well as fees by outside investment providers for these strategies. Our team, spearheaded by Keith Poniewaz and Mitch DeWitt, have been working on developing these in-house to eliminate those manager fees. Additionally, by  lowering trading commissions down to very low in some cases and zero in others, this strategy becomes significantly more feasible. 

There is much to write about the benefits of these strategies, including the ability to manage taxation, lower or eliminate expense ratios, and offer greater customization. Keith and I discussed “direct indexing” about a year ago on Gimme Some Truth, and will expand on this topic in a future blog post.

Probable: The Death of the Suit

As we’ve all become accustomed to working from home, the dress code has become increasingly relaxed. It’s certainly not uncommon to see people in sweatshirts and hats conducting meetings, and it’s become an anomaly to see someone show up to a Zoom meeting in something as formal as a dress shirt. While a return to the office will likely send us back to business casual, it’s difficult to imagine anyone reaching for a suit anytime soon.

Possible: The Elimination of Handshakes

Certainly a more minor – but still important – interpersonal moment may be coming to a close. With a greater focus on the communication of viruses, could this be the end of the handshake? As we enter a post-lockdown world, it seems like a certainty in the short term that handshakes will be out of fashion, and polite waves or nods will become the preferred greeting. (Though, if elbow-bumps get too popular, we reserve the right to revert back to good ol’ fashioned handshakes!) 

Probs Not: Zoom Happy Hours the New Normal

I’ve been on a few Zoom happy hours, which have been kind of nice to do with people I haven’t been able to see for a while. It’s also brought together family members and friends that live far away. But to think that it will replace your favorite dive bar and those greasy burgers? Doubtful, at least in Wisconsin.