Before Hurricane Harvey made landfall, Houston-based benefit adviser Cary Goss sprang into action. The principal with Clarus Benefits Group closed his office the day before the massive storm hit to begin preparations for a worst-case scenario. He also established text and email chains for better communication with his foot soldiers. Data protection was made a top priority with the help of four sets of backup files and immediate consultation with his IT provider on what to do.
In the following Q&A with EBA, Goss details these and other plans that he believes will help his peers in Florida weather Irma, which is expected to ravage the Sunshine State this weekend. What follows is an edited version of that conversation.
EBA: As someone who braved Hurricane Harvey, what sort of advice or lessons learned would you impart to fellow benefit brokers and advisers in Florida on coping in a post-hurricane environment?
Cary Goss: Even if you don’t have a plan, it’s not too late because there are preventive measures that you can take. We closed the office the day before it was going to hit because the grocery store shelves were empty and people were evacuating, and I wanted to make sure that my team could get out of town or go support family or buy supplies. We also established a text and email chain among the team just so we could communicate, hoping that while they might not have power, they’d still have cellular reception. The third thing that I did is protect our data. We put our office server into an interior, protected room. We had a second backup locally within the office and third Carbonite backup in the cloud.
But the challenge that I was posed with was if we’re without power and can’t access things, what are we going to do? So we did a fourth backup of all our client files, and I took that with me. If we were going to be without power, all client inquiries were to be directed to me by phone so at least I could look things up. Thankfully, we have a good IT team that made sure our firewalls were set in place.
EBA: How can Florida brokers and advisers manage client expectations about moving forward with any projects under a worst-case scenario?
Goss: What I would say is you’ve got to communicate early and communicate often. And so, let them know what the expectations are. Put clients’ minds at ease and let them know what you’re doing proactively as a firm to protect the integrity of any data and make sure that they can continue to service requests. Once we kind of got back on our feet, one of the first things we did was checking in with clients, and every client we talked to had some sort of story. They were either impacted directly or their employees were impacted. So I think it was a good healing process for everybody to be able to talk about it, and I think they really appreciated us checking in. So I’d strongly recommend that; it’s a great opportunity to enhance and grow that bond with your clients by just simply checking on them.
When something like this hits, obviously there’s a ton of devastation, as well as a lot of emotion, confusion and anger, and for any brokers that have clients with an employee assistance program, I would recommend doing that as part of the early communication. We didn’t think about that until afterward, so we did it post-communication. But I would resend EAP flyers with the telephone numbers to each client so they have these channels just to talk to somebody. Not everybody out there has family or friends to lean on, and so that can become really invaluable.
EBA: Is there anything else you can add about the importance of maintaining a positive attitude in the face of adversity, especially since this storm is forecast to be rather historic?
Goss: Yeah, I think a lot of it needs to stem from leadership, letting your employees know, No. 1, that you’re most concerned about them and their safety, and then some assurance that the company is going to be OK and continue. If you think about it from an employee perspective, they’re concerned not only about their house, safety and family, but also about their job security.
Is there a plan in place for payroll? That was one other thing that I thought about before leaving is we had payroll coming up the next week. So in case we couldn’t access anything electronically, we went ahead and got it processed and funded almost a week and a half in advance just to make sure that employees were going to have their direct deposits.
EBA: What would you say about the possibility of some brokers and advisers who take a big hit in this storm considering the possibility of relocating?
Goss: I was talking to a gentleman yesterday who owns a payroll company, and they went a step further. Part of their preparedness plan was to have a second office, and so they set up a structure and had a signed contract where if a disaster hit, they can move into this office that they knew was going to be secure and safe. That really caught me by surprise. I thought that was really good planning. Then he reported that their office totally flooded out. It needs to be totally gutted, and so they are relocating.
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