COVID-19 (coronavirus) Preparedness Information
As of May 21, 2020
“Think, act, and communicate from the inside out.”
That comes from our core values, which, along with our fiduciary responsibility, represents our dedication to the wellbeing of our employees, our clients and community. To ensure a safe environment, Versant has developed a comprehensive COVID-19 preparedness plan in response to the coronavirus pandemic. We are monitoring State of Arizona, OSHA, and CDC guidelines to begin reopening our office responsibly, and believe it’s important to share the steps we are taking to keep our people safe and our office clean.
The timeline for being fully-staffed in-office is currently being evaluated and will depend on a number of factors. Versant will reopen in phases with a limited number of employees, with a rotating schedule likely to be implemented. Our people who will not be in the office will continue to work from home. In-person client meetings will be limited and we will continue to use tele- or Zoom conferencing as much as possible.
Foremost, we are taking preventive measures to keep our office clean and maintain a healthy environment.
The Biltmore Financial Center has put several measures in place to help ensure a safe and clean building. This includes signage that recommends visitors wear masks when entering, hand sanitizer stations throughout the building, disabled water fountains, physical distancing decals in the elevators, and heightened sanitizing and cleaning of the building.
While we take pride in our everyday practices to maintain a clean office suite, we have implemented additional measures that reflect the recommended standards of the CDC. Professional cleaning and disinfecting with industrial grade products will take place mid-day and nightly. Hand sanitizer stations will be located at the entrance, as well as throughout the office.
Our staff will be wearing masks and all visitors will be required to wear one as well (we will have sanitary extras on hand). If an in-person meeting is absolutely necessary, we will ensure proper distancing in the conference room (limited to four people).
Our thoughts are with all who have been impacted by the coronavirus. As we proceed into the months ahead, we will adapt to new safety measures as they arise and evolve. Rest assured, we are doing everything we can to provide a safe experience for our clients and a healthy environment for our employees. As always, please contact Versant should you have any questions.
A Letter from Thomas Connelly and Elizabeth Shabaker
As of April 27, 2020
Our heartfelt thanks go out to you for entrusting us with the privilege of going down life’s road with you during one of the most challenging economic and investing periods in recent memory. The wellbeing of you, your family, your charitable endeavors, and your community are at the center of everything we do at Versant. Access to your team of professionals during this time is our top priority – and we stand ready to provide perspective in any area of planning or concern on a moment’s notice.
We are most certainly in a challenging time, facing an evolving coronavirus situation and its effects on how we work and live. The global economy and investment markets have taken substantial hits in the short-term, and health concerns are top of mind. The monetary and fiscal responses of governments around the world are unprecedented in terms of speed and magnitude. Though new cases of infection appear to be declining, there is no concrete answer as to when life will start normalizing again. China’s experience suggests the manufacturing and transport sectors will begin to recover quickly, but service sectors are coming back more slowly. This set of circumstances doesn’t make it easy for investors to stay in their seats.
Despite the sharp contraction in economic activity we are experiencing due to the pandemic and the oil market dislocation, we believe that the cause is a finite set of circumstances that will be trending back towards normal within the next two years or so. Most of the developed world has endured depressions, wars, political meltdowns, and natural disasters over the preceding decades and have recovered economically in a matter of years in most cases. Most stock markets are already priced for a negative economic outcome that will persist for some time, and in our opinion, are attractively priced versus returns available from cash or government bonds.
We believe the best thing to do is to stay on course with your plan with possible minor adjustments. That’s what the plan is there for. In the short term, markets are going to fluctuate with new and unexpected developments, and it’s important to stick to a long-term investing approach and not let fear or euphoria dictate your plan’s outcomes.
In some cases, volatility and fear can work to your benefit. Versant’s view is that when there are periods of market volatility, it can be a time to increase long-term investments rather than sell them. This can be done via periodic rebalancing (described below), or by incrementally increasing exposure to opportunities. One of our core investment beliefs, stated in the investment section of our website,
is “Our clients stand ready to provide market liquidity in times of distress with long-term funds.” In other words, when fear is rampant and other investors are selling indiscriminately, and asset valuations are relatively low, it may be time to take advantage of others’ excessive fears by providing liquidity (by buying) to markets starved for liquidity (fear-based or forced selling). You don’t get good prices with good news, but you might get good prices with bad news. This is where we are now with some markets: long-term risk assets priced attractively because of short-term news and fear.
In addition to executing our long-term investment strategy, here are some of the ways Versant is working behind the scenes to manage the situation and to provide advice, information, and comfort:
You’ve probably heard from Versant more during this pandemic than you have during normal times. Through frequent one-on-one calls, Zoom meetings, videos, town halls, webinars, symposia, social media postings, and email news, we’re striving to keep you updated with useful and reliable information about the markets, your financial situation, and the importance of revisiting your wealth management foundation already in place.
We’ve been thinking about the straightforward language we developed several years ago to describe Versant’s guiding principles. It’s called 10 Things to Know About Versant, and two of the tenets are particularly applicable today:
#5 We don’t go in for fads: Making financial decisions based upon emotion, ideology, politics, commercials you see while watching the news, market fads and crazes, or other similar reasons, is a fast route to long-term frustration and poor, long-term results. What we care about is quality depth of analysis and reaching your goals.
#6 Bringing order to your financial life through a rational, disciplined, and evidence-based investment approach: Our investment process is done in partnership with an informed, educated, and engaged client. The economic and emotional interests of all parties are aligned toward accomplishing your goals and objectives. We operate in an environment of mutual trust and respect, where constructive questioning and creative thinking are encouraged. Feedback to you is transparent and available on a timely basis.
Our specific financial management, personal, wealth, and family goals and objectives are clearly defined. By making adjustments as necessary, as personal, regulatory, and economic climates change, we create solutions-oriented to your circumstances and are not influenced by financial products or other factors not in your best interest.
We’ve been through tough times before. Just about everyone remembers the 2008-2009 global financial crisis, even if they weren’t old enough to be in the workforce at the time. We have principals who also experienced the 1987 crash, the collapse of the colossal Japan bubble in 1989-90, the S&L crisis, the Mexican, Thai, and Russian crises of the late 1990s, and the tech bubble crash.
Many of you have been quite calm during the coronavirus pandemic, having been steeled by the 2008 crisis. Our senior staff helped clients navigate the markets during those times, talking with people often daily for nearly two years in some cases. Today, like then, we are staying in close contact with you to listen, answer questions, and provide assurance about the planning work we’ve done together.
We discuss that volatile market events are considered in much of the internal analysis that we do, particularly when it comes to long-term goals. These conversations often center around state-of-mind, priorities, and what matters most to you and your family. In some ways, it’s business as usual by making sure that you are where you need to be with a financial plan that’s at work for you and your family, in good times and in challenging times.
Warren Buffett says that he likes his stocks the way he likes his socks: on sale. Often market volatility means lower prices. We are always looking for opportunities, whether the market is up, down, or sideways. That means we structure portfolios to contain investments that will work in all sorts of economic and market environments — whether we expect them or not — so you have resources to draw on in the future.
Some economic environments are less favorable to some types of investments, which can create opportunities. One area of opportunity is the energy space. It was appealing earlier in the year and has become increasingly more attractive as the pandemic and the game of chicken between the Saudis and the Russians has continued to unfold. The drastic short-term slowdown in economic activity has significantly reduced demand in various pockets of the energy space. It’s something we anticipate rebounding as economic activity resumes later this year and, have been increasing exposure to this opportunity in some portfolios.
When the markets go down, it’s easy to get frustrated. But there is a positive: tax-loss harvesting.
Tax-loss harvesting allows the ability to sell investments that are down, replace them with reasonably similar investments, and then offset realized investment gains with those losses. The result is that less of your money goes to taxes and more stays invested and working for you.
We continue to review portfolios and rebalance, both to make sure cash remains at the right levels in accounts and to maintain the desired asset allocation. Our goal is to continue to buy at low prices to add to these asset classes. This strategy works for the long-term because it is a disciplined approach that forces us to buy low and sell high. So, even if the financial markets go down more in the short-term, they will recover, and those who have continued to rebalance will do well.
One way to turn lemons into lemonade is to reduce future tax liability through tax-deferred accounts like IRAs, by converting a traditional IRA that has declined in value to a Roth IRA. The general Roth conversion rationale is to convert and pay tax now if you think your top marginal tax rate in retirement will be higher than it currently is. Market volatility provides an opportunity to convert, while valuations are off their all-time highs, reducing the conversion’s tax cost.
For example, rather than waiting until year-end to evaluate this strategy, today could be an opportune time to consider a conversion. The dollars that would be converted into the Roth account could be invested in stocks. When the market recovers, that growth would then be captured inside the Roth account, allowing for tax-free withdrawals in the future, as opposed to a Traditional IRA, which taxes withdrawals as ordinary income. As always, it is recommended that you speak with your tax professional about tax strategies that are right for you.
529, IRA and 401(k) plan contributions
Making contributions to plans at the current sale prices can help to achieve long term goals. For example, current gift tax rules allow individuals to fund five years of 529 contributions without using the lifetime gift exemption. Each spouse can contribute up to $75,000 per child into a 529 plan right now. In a long-term view, today’s low values could provide a good opportunity to maximize 529 plan contributions. Please talk with your tax professional for more information.
Today’s mortgage rates are extremely competitive, which means it may be a good time to reduce expenses by refinancing existing mortgages and loans, despite the general economic turmoil. Versant is evaluating these opportunities and recommending options where appropriate.
The CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security) Act doubles the maximum amount that can be borrowed from a 401(k) from the lesser of $50,000, or 50 percent of the plan participant’s account balance, to the lessor of $100,000 or 100 percent of the participant’s balance. These limits extend through the end of 2020. Those with an outstanding loan balance from their plan and whose repayment is due between March 27, 2020, and December 31, 2020, can extend their repayment period for one year.
The CARES Act also allows individuals to withdraw up to $100,000 from retirement accounts without having to pay a 10 percent penalty if they are under 59½. To qualify, you must fall into one of two categories:
- You, your spouse, or a dependent is diagnosed with COVID-19
- You have suffered financial consequences as a result of the pandemic
These issues could include a loss of income due to being quarantined or furloughed, being unable to work due to childcare issues, or other challenges beyond your control arising out of this situation. The distribution itself is subject to taxes (as with any retirement account distribution), but it can be spread out over the next three years. Additionally, you could be able to re-contribute the money back into the account over the next three years to avoid some or all of the taxes. Not all retirement plans will allow these COVID-19 withdrawals, so check with your plan administrator of an employer-sponsored retirement plan like a 401(k) to learn if this is an option.
Finally, the CARES Act waives the requirement to take minimum distributions from all retirement plans for 2020.
Focusing on goals
The recent decline has much the same feel as past crises, with elevated fear and anxiety. Scrolling through the news, it’s understandable to think the volatility is worse and longer-lasting than anything before.
The truth is, there are things we can’t control and things we can control. We can control our emotions and our behaviors. We can take actions that will keep us calm and make sure our financial picture remains stable. Over time, Versant has thoughtfully collaborated with our clients to create financial plans that provide a foundation based on their goals and timetable, as opposed to emotions or panic. Navigating through rocky markets can be difficult and following proven investing principles can help you stay the course.
Thomas J. Connelly, CFA, CFP
President & Chief Investment Officer
Elizabeth Shabaker, CFP
Chief Executive Officer
COVID-19 (coronavirus) Preparedness Information
As of March 23, 2020
Versant Capital Management continues to closely monitor the widespread impact of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. The safety and well-being of our employees, clients, and industry partners remains our top priority.
We have taken measures to follow guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, World Health Organization and local governments. These measures include:
- Working Remotely
- Restricting Travel
- Avoiding In-Person Meetings and Gatherings
- Implementing Extra Cleaning and Hygiene Measures
Long before the COVID-19 outbreak, Versant developed a detailed business continuity plan to preserve critical functions and activities, and to become fully equipped with advanced technologies and robust processes that allow our staff to be agile, no matter where they’re located.
As a preemptive measure, Versant has put elements of this continuity plan into action to ensure that functions continue to operate without disruption, all while taking steps to vigilantly protect against illness and to safeguard the well-being of our team.
Throughout this transition, our clients will receive the same level of service and accessibility they’ve always experienced, without a break in continuity. Office phones are being forwarded to our cell phones and client meetings will continue to be held via conference call and Zoom Link. (We will reschedule any virtual meetings for a later date, for those who prefer to talk in person.)
We will adapt plans and issue further communication, as appropriate, as the situation develops. As always, please contact Versant should you have any questions.