Writer: Max Crampton-Thomas
2 min read July 2021 — Michael Woocher, managing director of Bernstein Private Wealth Management in Atlanta, shares that the pivot to remote work hasn’t impeded the firm’s high-touch approach and regular engagement with clients – in some cases this experience has made relationships with clients even stronger.
How did Bernstein approach the pandemic from a performance perspective?
Our firm was incredibly well prepared, from a technology and operational standpoint, to navigate the business restrictions and unprecedented environment imposed by the pandemic. For example, we were able to work remotely in a seamless way prior to the pandemic and, believe it or not, we used Zoom before last year. Though we were not able to meet with our clients and professional partners in person, we were intensely focused on maintaining high levels of communication and engagement, and in many cases our relationships were strengthened during this period, and our business grew.
What are the unique opportunities and challenges in Atlanta’s business and economic landscape?
Atlanta’s vibrant economy creates great opportunities for a firm like Bernstein. There are many Fortune 500 companies headquartered here and it’s an attractive community for entrepreneurs to build their businesses. There are also great universities and an outstanding healthcare system which make it a compelling place to live and work. The challenge is that Atlanta isn’t a secret; and many other high quality firms have been attracted to Atlanta as well.
Considering the market volatility, what are your strategies to continue maximizing your clients’ wealth?
Wealth has multiple dimensions; it’s not just financial. In fact, over generations, the reason most families fail to maximize or preserve their financial wealth stems from the fact that they haven’t prepared their inheritors to be stewards of the wealth, haven’t communicated effectively within the family regarding the wealth and haven’t found an effective decision-making framework for matters related to their wealth. We help in these areas. But with regard to recent market volatility I believe our counsel stood out on two fronts: (1) orienting our advice around the long-term plan we constructed with clients at the outset of the relationship, and (2) advising clients to resist making significant asset allocation adjustments during the period of maximum uncertainty in the early stage of the pandemic. Today, US stocks have returned around 85% since the March 2020 low. We work closely with clients to protect against making short-term reactive decisions that detract from maximizing wealth.
How has the demand for your services changed over the past few years?
For income-oriented investors, the search for yield from their portfolio has been a multi-year theme but has not waned in terms of client demand. Historically low interest rates have made it very difficult to generate the levels of portfolio income available to investors prior to the Global Financial Crisis. We have counseled clients on the implications of reaching for income, which typically come in the form of higher portfolio risk and volatility. At the same time, we have developed solutions, such as private credit and securitized assets, which can play a pivotal role within a broadly diversified portfolio, to help income-oriented investors meet their needs.
Separate and apart from investment management, wealthy families have become increasingly focused on the impact their wealth has or will have on their family members over time. They often want to ensure their wealth will have a positive impact on those who will receive it. These families seek advisers who can help them navigate this tricky issue by sharing best practices and time tested advice. We are spending a great deal of time in this area.
How are you leveraging technology to improve customer experience?
We are harnessing the power of technology to create stronger engagement with our clients. This takes many forms. In its most simple form, it can be our use of electronic signatures for document execution – streamlining a process that was often clumsy and unnecessarily time consuming. Another example is extending the reach of the firm to clients, regardless of their location. Virtual events created a community for clients with similar interests and passions, regardless of where they reside. This was not as often the case prior to COVID, where events were typically delivered solely for a local audience.
We also recently launched a new Bernstein.com website designed to enhance the wealth and investment planning experience for clients by combining modern design with intuitive navigation, making it easier than ever to engage with our insights and better understand the team’s deep expertise.
What is your outlook for the financial services industry in Atlanta for the next 12 to 18 months?
Atlanta is an attractive city for business owners, entrepreneurs, executives and professionals. The next 12 to 18 months should continue to be a time of growth. We also plan to expand our team in Atlanta to help grow brand awareness for Bernstein in Atlanta and the broader Southeast. We look forward to adding talented professionals to share our story and grow our business.
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Disclaimer: This material has been distributed for informational purposes only and should not be considered as investment advice or a recommendation of any particular security, strategy or investment product. Bernstein does not provide tax, legal, or accounting advice.