How to help clients rebound from a natural disaster

As the rains were pounding Houston the night of Aug. 26, 2017, Scott Bishop, CPA/PFS, was at once monitoring how his clients with STA Wealth Management were faring while also getting updates on his brother Eric’s home in the Meyerland section of town, known for flooding. Bishop, whose own home did not sustain any damage, learned that his clients were unharmed.

Eric and his wife and children, on the other hand, weren’t so lucky. With four feet of water in their rental home, Eric and his wife spent the night atop their kitchen counters. Because his wife suffers from a respiratory illness, they needed a medical rescue by helicopter on the second day of the storm. Eventually they made their way to Scott Bishop’s home, where they remained for several days.

Natural disasters have come fast and furious this past year with Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, Jose, and Maria coming in quick succession, not to mention the fires in Sonoma, California. CPAs in the stricken areas have found themselves dealing with much more than taxes and retirement planning.

It’s during these stressful times that CPAs can prove their mettle.

“CPAs are the most trusted adviser to their clients and are there to provide emotional support during a very difficult time,” said financial adviser Deborah Fox, founder of the Fox Financial Planning Network, an AICPA partner.

CPAs share the following insights on how to provide clients with the emotional support and financial know-how to rebound from a natural disaster. 

Insurance is less about getting money for rebuilding than it is about risk-management planning, said Leonard Wright, CPA/PFS, CGMA, who is based in San Diego. “If you don’t have the right insurance, it can blow up your retirement planning,” Wright said.

Bourke’s clients were similarly affected. When power was restored, they were ready to start rebuilding. But there was a problem: Their important documents had washed away in the storm surge.

“They needed copies of their financial information, like deeds and tax returns, and we had it all on the cloud,” Bourke said. “To all the naysayers who are worried about hacking, I say, ‘What happens if all your data gets washed away?’ “

Natural disasters are inevitable in some parts of the country. And while you can’t prevent them from striking you or your clients, laying the groundwork ahead of time for how you’ll help your clients in the aftermath can go a long way toward helping them rebound.

For more information on this topic, view the AICPA’s free Disasters and Financial Planning guide.

Ilana Polyak is a Massachusetts-based freelance writer. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Courtney Vien, a senior editor at the Association of International Certified Professional Accountants.  

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