- Entertaining clients is a key part of doing business on Wall Street. And some are getting creative when it comes to getting in face time.
- Some Wall Streeters are embracing Manhattan’s outdoor dining options. But sitting outside in the summer heat on a city sidewalk isn’t appealing to everyone.
- Golf, Hamptons dining, and even walks on the beach are all popular alternatives for dealmakers, lawyers, and vendors looking to schmooze with clients.
- For those that are still keeping in touch from afar, the challenges are mounting. Clients don’t always like video calls, and social media interactions are complicated by compliance practicalities.
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Even as offices remain largely empty, there are signs that in-person client schmoozing is returning for the Wall Street crowd.
The New York restaurant scene has been staging a comeback — outside. But while that’s been a welcome change for foodies who have longed to return to their favorite spots, it also means sitting at tables on the sidewalk or in parking spaces in the summer heat.
One New York-based hedge-fund manager told Business Insider that he wasn’t looking forward to what normally would have been a nice dinner — paid for by a bank — inside. Now, that same dinner has to happen outside, socially distant from other diners, with waiters in masks.
“It’s 90 degrees, I don’t want to sweat my ass off eating dinner,” he said.
Hot weather hasn’t kept people from hitting the links, though. A top salesman for a software used by hedge funds said golf remains the one constant — it’s a socially-distant game that can be comped by the company. And you don’t even have to leave Manhattan to get a golf fix: he recently has been taking prospects to a driving range at Chelsea Piers.
A private equity-focused lawyer currently in Florida said he’s never been more thankful he has a top-notch golf game so he can take clients out.
If dinner is a must, sources say that it’s much more enjoyable to be eating outside on the water in the Hamptons than in a converted parking space in Manhattan.
One investment-banking MD who’s based in Greenwich, CT, said he’s played a lot of tennis and golf. He’s also gone for local walks and even driven out to the Hamptons for a long walk on the beach with an important client.
‘You can fill your dance card Tuesday through Thursday’
But there are some advantages for those sticking it out in the city. While it might be tougher to book a table now with restaurants spacing out seating, coordinating schedules with clients can actually be easier.
“You’d be surprised about how many people are in the city,” said another banking MD, who’s been going to the office a few days a week. “I’ve had lunch with clients in Midtown Manhattan on the streets. Getting a dinner reservation with clients on a Tuesday night in the Upper East Side was not easy.”
He said it’s easier to get on clients’ calendars than normal because people are bored of seeing only family and perhaps close friends for months, and few are traveling. He said some companies, like smaller firms that might not have deal flow as active as that of the major names, are prioritizing face-to-face activities more to drum up deals.
“There’s no mandate to be in. But if you do go calling around, it’s amazing who’s there,” he said. “Maybe they’re not here all five days, but you can fill your dance card Tuesday through Thursday.”
Read more: Boutique banks like Evercore and Moelis are saving tens of millions in travel and entertainment costs while dealmakers are grounded. Here’s what that newfound efficiency could mean for the future of business travel.
Keeping clients’ safety in mind
For financial advisers, the pandemic has tested what are typically high-touch relationships with their well-heeled client bases. Usually, there are splashy outings; client-only events thrown by the firm; dinners; travel; meetings as simple as a living room visit to discuss their accounts.
The risk for severe illness from the coronavirus increases with age, and financial advisers are extra mindful of the precautions they must take with older clients. And for those that are still refraining from in-person interactions, the challenges have been mounting.
For one wirehouse financial adviser based in New Jersey, it took the pandemic to motivate one of his clients, a widow pushing 80, to recently learn how to use the firm’s online banking tools (and her cell phone) effectively.
Another wirehouse adviser, who is based in the southern US and has clients living stateside and internationally, said the situation has tested the limits of some clients’ tech expertise.
Some older clients of his had tended to walk to their local branches to take care of wealth management- and banking-related transactions; now that’s not a possibility. So the adviser has had to guide them remotely, he said in a recent phone interview.
He’s taken to keeping in touch with his clients over the phone — only. He doesn’t like video calls, and some of his clients either don’t have the know-how to set it up, or just prefer the phone as well.
There was once also the issue of Zoom-bombing, the problem video-conferencing Zoom said it took measures to prevent earlier this year when uninvited guests would get into meetings. One of the advisers in his branch had an instance of pornography popping up on a client call. They’ve since switched to WebEx.
Meanwhile, firms’ compliance departments and regulators enforce strict guidelines around what they can post online, meaning communicating with clients over social media, texting, and video calls has been a delicate balance.
Still, some rules are changing with the times. For instance, Morgan Stanley is currently conducting a pilot program allowing a group of advisers to “like” posts on LinkedIn, according to a person familiar with the policy.
Aside from keeping clients happy, advisers are dealing with another challenge: adding new clients to their practices. Some firms have given advisers a break on goals related to client activity, acknowledging many will have a hard time with categories like new household acquisition.
That’s likely a welcome relief, with some advisers who are stepping back from cold prospective client outreach.
A wealth adviser at a wirehouse based in the Northeast US said in a recent interview that his team were focusing more on serving existing clients — some of whom have lost family members during the pandemic and are dealing with financial complications on top of grief — rather than trying to source new business.
With new reach-outs, “we don’t want to be insincere” during a sensitive time, he said.