Earthquake? Lava? Power Outages? NI advisors are ready for anything!

If lava were flowing toward your financial advisor’s neighborhood, would you still be able to talk to her about your IRA distribution? If a tornado splintered your advisor’s office, could you get money from your account? If a failed power grid shut off communications in your advisor’s region, could you get the advice you need immediately?

These particular scenarios may be highly improbable, but life happens, and NI works to ensure that clients won’t be affected when it does.

The document that outlines NI’s preparation for potential business interruptions is called the Business Continuity Plan. NI’s compliance officer, Christopher Peck, oversees the plan, which he explained in a recent interview.

Q: Christopher, what is the Business Continuity Plan?

A: The idea is to demonstrate that we can continue our work despite various disruptions. “Disruption” is construed quite generally: disaster, hurricane, superstorm, terrorist attack, lava flow, power outage, earthquake—anything that could interrupt service to your clients. The Business Continuity Plan asks and answers, “What’s your plan for that not happening?”

Q: Why does it matter?

A: Clients have their own plans and deadlines. If we are off the grid and unavailable for a week, we could create serious issues for the client.

We’ve never had an incident where we had to implement our Business Continuity Plan. There was recently a pretty severe hurricane over Hawaii. Neighbors around [NI advisor] Malaika [Muphalala] had outages, but with her preparations, she was able to continue working without disruption.

Q: Sounds like a good business practice.

A: And a good people practice. Most people have responsibilities—people they take care of like older family members or children, or pets—so we need to be there for them even when we’ve had a life disruption. It’s just good people practice.

We had an earthquake in California a month or so ago. News reports highlighted a business that suffered a lot of broken bottles of wine and olive oil, and said, “Who would have seen this coming?” I thought, “Are you kidding? We have an entire state agency devoted to earthquake preparedness.” Those people lost a lot of money because they had not planned for what could happen.

Q: What steps do NI advisors take to minimize the possibility of a business disruption?

A: Power and communications are the functional disruption, the result of the disaster. The solutions to that are not that hard. Everybody has some kind of power backup, such as a continuous power service for their computers or even a generator. Half of our people even have some kind of solar energy system to hook their computers to, making them much less vulnerable to power outages. Most people have redundant communication, for example a cell phone as well as a land line. And if you had internet, you would have Skype.

Another potential situation is fire. We are all very cloud-based, so our offices can be functional again easily.

Everybody is using a high level of security—encryption; robust passwords. The functional risk even if a computer is stolen is incredibly low. Getting information would be extremely difficult, and even information is not sufficient to get money out of an account. Schwab and other account custodians have entire departments to make sure no one gets money out that shouldn’t be going out. The pathway of actual harm to the client is very, very difficult.

Q: How do you prepare an effective Business Continuity Plan?

A: The first thing is thinking through ahead of time what the possible disruptions might be. What could happen? What if power or communications are lost? What if I couldn’t access my office? Then I think through how to respond to that. What’s my remedy? And then we prepare multiple layers of response.

Q: NI’s advisors are located across the country. Does that make it harder to plan for business continuity?

A: That’s actually a strength. If there’s a superstorm in one region and an advisor can’t do anything, clients can still get in touch with someone in the NI group. We provide each other with backup. You can reach out to any other NI advisor; and in many cases, we’ll be in touch with you with alternate contact info if one of our team is unreachable for an extended time.

Q: Do you feel NI is prepared for continuous business?

Absolutely. The risk of disruption is low but that doesn’t make us complacent. We are way ahead of the game. If there’s any concern or issue, any NI client can contact me.

Susan Taylor

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