sandbags on flooded neighborhood street

Helping clients after a disaster begins with one simple question: How are you doing?

Nobody likes to think about how a natural disaster may affect their family, their home or their livelihood. But with severe storms, fires and floods, it's likely that you will have clients who may one day face the challenges of recovering from a catastrophic event.

While most people don't think about their finances first — the health and safety of their loved ones, the security of their homes and their immediate food and shelter plans come first — there is much you can do as their financial professional, both immediately following a disaster and in the days, weeks and months that follow.

There are also ways you can help prepare your clients for unforeseen events, which can allow them to put contingency plans in place and potentially recover more quickly from the unexpected.

Following a disastrous event:  Steps to help clients recover

Offer help and compassion

As your first step, reach out to offer help and listen to what your clients need. Asking simply "How are you," and, "How can I help?" can be welcome words to someone navigating through the aftermath of a disaster. Even if it's a matter of offering a place to charge their cell phone, get a free cup of coffee or a spare office to do some work, open your doors and your ears to your clients.

Facilitate their cash flow

If your clients don't have any cash on hand, and don't know how to secure it due to a disruption in their income or power outage, find ways to help them — whether that's through securing a line of credit, identifying liquid investments or letting them know they can contact creditors to inquire about whether payments can be put on hold for a time.

Talk about next steps – when they’re ready

The financial impact of a natural disaster may change the way your clients' investment portfolios should be structured, or how much they should have in an emergency fund.

Once your clients are past the initial stages of restoration, be sure to initiate a conversation to help them recover over the long term.

Help clients evaluate their insurance needs

At this stage, it may be a good idea to encourage your clients to evaluate their insurance policies. Even if you don't provide insurance products, identifying key questions to ask and important next steps can help your clients start this piece of their recovery.

Planning can go a long way:  helping clients prepare

Before disaster strikes, some advance preparation can be the difference between your clients feeling lost and unsure about what to do next, versus being equipped to approach their recovery efforts with confidence and a plan.

Here are some ways you can help your clients feel prepared to handle a future crisis:

Safeguard key records and documents

Whether it's saving them to the cloud, storing them in a safe deposit box or giving documents to a family member who lives in a different community, saving and copying important files, photos and financial documents can help your clients get their lives back on track faster should their homes and possessions be damaged.

Organize information

Preserving and duplicating information is just the first step. It's also crucial to advise clients to identify key contacts, and let them know where important files are stored.

Catalog valuable possessions

Urge your clients to take photos of their belongings, and encourage them to assess their insurance policies to ensure they have the right coverage that fully protects their prized possessions (including artwork, memorabilia and jewelry, which often requires separate coverage).

Set up an emergency fund

Currently, only 15% of Americans have more than $10,000 set aside to cover unexpected financial needs. Because saving for an intangible goal of this kind can be difficult to prioritize, having a conversation with your clients about the importance of being ready for surprises can help motivate them to save.

You're not immune to disaster: Follow your own advice

With 24/7 news and advanced weather projections, we often know when a natural disaster is headed in our direction. Preparing your own business to function during a natural disaster can help ensure your clients feel confident regardless of the situation, and that you — a trusted partner — can continue to service them during the most difficult times.

Following are some ways you can (at least figuratively) keep your doors open during a disaster:

Identify all means of communication

Ensure your clients know all the ways in which they can reach you, and keep a listing of your clients' contact info that is accessible outside your office. If you expect a storm might take out internet connections, ensure you have alternate means of communication available — whether that's a land line, cell phone or regular mail (for transactions that require a paper trail).

Identify your backup

Have at least three business colleagues who can act as your backup in the event you become unreachable during a natural disaster. Ensure at least one individual is in a different physical location, and be explicit about what you expect of them — i.e.: Do you want them to simply field phone calls and take messages, or conduct trades, provide advice, or take care of other client transactions?

Communicate backup contacts to your clients in advance

It can be helpful to provide a call list for your clients, so they know who to contact, when and in what order.

Update your website/ email ahead of time

If a flood, storm or fire is headed in the direction of your office and you believe your business may be affected, take the time to update your website and email signature with relevant information, including how you can be reached, who your backup is, as well as what your plan is for returning client communication.

Creating contingency plans for both your clients and your business can help recovery efforts after a natural disaster occurs. Offering clients the right kind of support after one strikes can also help you build more trust. When clients know you're there for them, they can feel justified in trusting your judgement, expertise and ability, both in good times and bad.