4 ways to protect your financial wealth during the COVID-19 crisis
by Sanjeev Bhatia, MD, and David B. Mandell, JD, MBA
Since our last column, the world has changed more over the course of 1 month than perhaps at any point in our lifetimes.
Unless you have been living in a cave, you certainly must have noticed how the SARS-CoV-2 virus, once an obscure Asiatic pathogen, has rapidly morphed into the COVID-19 global pandemic, destroying lives, jobs, world economies and equity wealth at a historically efficient pace.
As physicians, most of us have seen our medical livelihoods upended as our elective procedures have been suspended indefinitely. In many cases, we have had to take reductions in pay as we try to keep our staff and practices afloat while enduring an indefinite time without revenue. Although monetary woes will (and should) always take a backseat to health matters for you and your family, it cannot be overstated how crucial financial stability is to your family’s well-being. In this month’s column, we will focus on four things you can do right now to protect your financial health during this tumultuous time.
Protect your and your family’s health
Although this column is focused on protecting assets, the most important asset of them all will always be human life.
It goes without saying that during this global health pandemic it is imperative to make decisions that prioritize your and your family’s health above all things. That includes having a logistical and financial plan in the event that you or a member of your family becomes ill. When the pandemic passes, the added preparedness can be transitioned to estate planning decision-making for you and your family.
Protect your family’s and practice’s liquidity
In previous columns, we have recommended maintaining a 3- to 6-month supply of cash and cash equivalents to fund your family’s living expenses in the event of calamity, job loss or hardship. During current times, the value of this practice truly begins to shine.
If personal liquidity is a concern, be sure to put all nonurgent expenses temporarily on hold such as credit card autopay, subscription dues and other nonurgent matters. Also, because the federal government has delayed all student loan interest during the COVID-19 national emergency, you may also defer student loan payments for several months without incurring increased capitalized interest.
Stay in touch with your financial quarterback
Whether it is your trusted and longstanding qualified financial advisor or a group of financial professionals you are close with, it always helps to communicate effectively with your personal financial quarterback(s) during tumultuous financial periods.
Human behavior in market downturns often leads to irrational decisions that could drastically alter your net worth outlook years later. It is likely that your financial advisor or quarterback risk-adjusted your personal investing strategy to account for large market downturns like the one experienced in March. In other words, investors nearing retirement likely were protected from large market downturns by having lower volatility assets, while younger investors may be positioned such that they weather the storm and take advantage of lower equity prices for long-term gains.
Don’t stop investing
No one has a better track record in coming out ahead during epic market downturns than legendary investor Warren Buffett. Buffett famously said at Berkshire Hathaway’s Annual Investor conference that, “our favorite holding period is forever” and “the stock market is manic depressive.” When managing your own personal stock portfolio, remember to keep in mind that timing the market upswings and downswings is a highly risky strategy that risks sacrificing your long-term upside.
In a recent analysis involving market data going back to 1930, Bank of America found that if an investor missed the S&P 500’s 10 best days in each decade, total returns would be just 91% as opposed to 14,962% for investors who held steady through the troughs (Stevens). Think of your investments as long-term partnerships just as Buffett does and tune out the day-to-day noise. Additionally, consider investing additional capital as appropriate in your long-term plans. Sharp market downturns like the one seen in March generally produce tremendous sales on high-quality stocks of companies. When stock searching, look for companies with fortress balance sheets, large cash reserves and unshakeable secular growth prospects. Companies like these only get stronger during negative sentiment market events.
As previously mentioned in other articles, a wonderful company valued fairly will continue to be a wonderful investment for years to come. In other words, identifying investments that have built in advantages, or “moats,” will allow you to reap handsome rewards over the long term.
Use the extra time to optimize other areas of your financial well-being
Finally, if you are like most physicians, your schedule suddenly is lighter than you could have ever believed. Be sure to use some of your extra time to shore up other areas of your financial well-being, including optimizing your disability coverage and asset protection, strengthening your practice’s health and reassessing your family’s spending habits.
No end in sight
The recent COVID-19 crisis has led to unprecedented economic bloodshed at the most rapid pace most of us have seen in our lifetime. At the time of this writing, there is no end in sight to the human and financial carnage in the weeks and months ahead.
Despite the negative outlook being heard and seen every day, keep in mind that humankind has a long history of overcoming grave challenges involving global disease. The Italian Renaissance —perhaps the greatest cultural, technological and economic revolution in human history — emerged after the Black Death, and most historians actually contend that the Bubonic Plague sowed the seeds that made the Renaissance possible (Dailyhistory.org).
During these hard times, focus on your family and loved ones’ personal health. Economically, we will survive. By following these four steps you can keep your family’s financial future safe, regardless of how long the pandemic lasts.
Dailyhistory.org. How did the Bubonic Plague make the Italian Renaissance possible? Updated January 12, 2019. Accessed April 14, 2020.
For Doctors Only or Wealth Management Made Simple are available free in print or by e-book download by texting HEALIO to 555-888 or at www.ojmbookstore.com. Enter code HEALIO at checkout.
Stevens P. When you sell during a panic you may miss the market’s best days. CNBC. Posted March 7, 2020. Accessed April 14, 2020.
Wealth Management Made Simple and the newly published Wealth Planning for the Modern Physician are available free in print or by e-book download by texting HEALIO to 555-888 or at www.ojmbookstore.com. Enter code HEALIO at checkout.
OJM Group partners have presented webinars to help individual physicians and medical practices navigate the challenges of the COVID-19 crisis. Click these links to view the webinars: What the CARES Act Means to You and Your Medical Practice and Your Personal Finances During the COVID-19 Crisis: Five Things to Do Now.
For more information:
Sanjeev Bhatia, MD, is an orthopedic sports medicine surgeon at Northwestern Medicine in Warrenville, Ill. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
David B. Mandell, JD, MBA, is an attorney and founder of the wealth management firm OJM Group. Seek professional tax and legal advice before implementing any strategy discussed herein. Mandell can be reached at: email@example.com or 877-656-4362.
Disclosures: Bhatia and Mandell report no relevant financial disclosures.