This year sucked. We yearn for the last page of the 2020 calendar to turn. Unfortunately, 2021 is going to suck, too.
I remember being out for dinner in early March for my mom’s birthday, and everything was…normal. Days later, New York City shut down. Many more states followed suit. BMM closed its doors to visitors and went remote. Since then, nothing has felt normal.
But you already know this. And the aim of BMM’s year-end letter isn’t to rehash the pandemic-nightmare we’re still living through. The objective is to catch you up on what we did over the last year. It just so happens that a lot of what we did this year had to do with helping our community get through the pandemic.
From March through July, I had two full-time jobs. One was investing portfolios for clients. The other was procurer and distributor of personal protective equipment. We were able to distribute about 35,000 masks to frontline workers, residents, and businesses. In addition to the masks, we donated several pallets of medical gloves, sanitizer, no-touch thermometers, disposable gowns, etc.
Small businesses are hurting, so we moved quickly to help support them. First, we donated $20,000 to start the Hometown Meals for Hometown Heroes program. We delivered hot meals to every position at every shift at the Berkshire Medical Center. I also purchased $7,600 of warm clothes for area children from locally owned retailers. Then I gave each employee $10,001 with the sole instruction to spend it locally. (More on why such an odd figure in a moment).
In addition to supporting small businesses’ sales, we donated over 200 “Back to Business” backpacks to local businesses, stuffed all those things everyone needed but seemingly nobody could get their hands one. Also, I continued to write the “Mind Your Business” column for the Berkshire Eagle. I gave advice on how to navigate restrictions, receive capital infusions, and update business practices to remain sustainable. I also continued to write the “Capital Ideas” column for the Berkshire Edge, advising stock investors on how to, among other things, hedge their portfolios during the pandemic crash.
Throughout the summer, we tried to help people get a taste a of that normalcy we were all
craving. BMM sits on a 28-acre campus, so we offered free socially distanced outdoor movies, yoga, and fitness classes. We also hosted a Diner en Blanc event with live music, gift baskets, and summer ambiance.
All of that must have meant something to the community as they – you – voted BMM “Best in the Berkshires – Wealth Management” for 2020. I thank all those who voted for us. And I thank my team, who helped us achieve this acknowledgment. As a token of my appreciation I gave each of them a $5,000 bonus. They deserved it for moving us through the challenges of the pandemic.
However, it wasn’t just COVID-19 that stained 2020. Racial injustice has been at the forefront of peoples’ minds for years. Decades. And it came to a tipping point this year in reaction to the murder of George Floyd. In response, BMM donated $10,000 to NAACP’s local chapter and offered an additional match.
Additionally, we joined “Blackout Tuesday,” when millions posted black squares in solidarity with the fight for racial justice. Only we didn’t do it on just Tuesday. We did it for the entire month of June. Full pages in local newspapers. Nearly a dozen billboards.
While most people praised us for a taking stand, others showed their true colors. We received e-mails, telephone calls, and letters about how it’s not our place – the place of a wealth management firm – to stand up against racism. They threatened to never become our clients. What they were really saying is that they are racists, and they don’t agree with BMM’s stance on equality, love for all, and fairness.
For those who contacted me anonymously to say they wouldn’t do business with BMM because we don’t share their racist views, and for those who thought the same but didn’t reach out to me, I have just two words for them. One starts with “F” and the other is “off.” I’m confident that even racists can fill in those blanks.
Beyond community development, there were changes to the BMM family in 2020. Two of my favorite people in the world, Barbara and Bill Schmick, retired this year. They are sorely missed. We moved forward despite the emptiness, and we added new members to our family. This year we brought on board Tammy Gaherty and Natalie Wheeler. Here are some of the team’s highlights for the year:
- Scott: I completed a 6-month training program from the Financial Transitionist Institute to better help families discuss wealth and inheritance. I also lost more than 45-pounds through a renewed dedication to health and wellness.
- Nate: I completed modules 1 and 2 of my Certified Financial Planner coursework, it was really nice not to have to take the module tests at a testing center! I’m still on the house search, I’m pre-approved, but it turns out I’m pretty picky.
- Tammy: I am very proud of having the courage to take a change of direction with my career and leave a job I liked for 17 years to move on to a career here at BMM. I love all my BMM family and I love what I am doing here. I am also very proud that throughout this crazy year of 2020 my daughter, Tarryn, graduated from high school and is now a first-year student at Smith College, in Northampton. This have been a very eventful, life changing & emotional year for my family.
- Jamie: I’m proud to have gotten through the high school online learning curve with my daughter. I am also proud to have helped BMM prepare forms for the DocuSign process to help our clients and advisors navigate through new 2020 processes. I also feel accomplished in evaluating costs of the company to help with budgeting.
- Natalie: As a new 2020 employee I swung into action as the Operations Manager and Compliance Associate. I have identified and targeted areas in which we could improve our operations and strengthen our compliance program. I have enjoyed quarterly check-in meetings with our team to get to know everyone better. As a mother, I’m proud of how I have been able to teach my children from home during a pandemic while not skipping a beat when it comes to being fully available to the BMM team and our clients.
- Lauren: The highlight of my 2020 has to be a drop-dead-gorgeous diamond on my left ring finger from my now-fiancé. It has truly warmed my heart to have had many BMM clients and friends reach out to share their best wishes. This year has made me extra grateful to work for such a selfless and all-around wonderful human being (yeah, you, Allen) and the rest of this team. Thank you, BMM family, for helping to keep one another sane!
- Nichole: It has been a trial-by-fire year, and I’m very proud of my kids’ (college and high school) dedication to their education despite all of the challenges the pandemic has put in front of us. And I’m absolutely stoked to have finally launched—with Allen and other talented colleagues— 10001hours.com, the first of its kind, full-service consulting and valuation program for business owners. Through it all, I have had the space and sincere support of the BMM family to be able to address social justice issues that have weighed heavy in my personal life and in the community for decades. I am forever grateful.
- Johnny: I’m thankful for the fact that I have been able to be there for my family and friends in what has been considered a tough 2020 for some. I have continued to learn and grow professionally, as well as trying to enrich my mental and physical health in a different way now that going to the gym was something I avoided much of this year.
- Zack: I spent the first half of the year finishing up my master’s degree in personal financial planning, which was a more significant commitment than I initially thought. After that, I spent my time enjoying the momentary freedom before burying myself in home renovations.
- Peter: 2020 was a year of growth both professionally and personally. I took an excellent course from the Financial Transitionist Institute on Families in Transition. The course dealt with how families can effectively pass their wealth, businesses and values on to the next generation. No trips or adventures but plenty of biking and hiking and lots of quality time with the love of my life and best friend, Sheila. Looking forward to 2021 and my son Patrick’s wedding in December.
It seems that almost every year, BMM is doing something new. 2020 was a year of sharpening weapons and shoring up our defenses, rather than radical change. The defenses were primarily operational. The arrows in our quiver that we sharpened were tools like deepening our expertise in working with older investors. That includes being available for family meetings to help their heirs prepare to receive an inheritance and carry on the family legacy. Another arrow we sharpened was advising on college funding options and coaching parents to get through the process.
I have been more busy than usual this year, given the stock market’s volatility and the need to introduce new safety measures for everyday operations. However, it’s still my job to find the time to make sure BMM does everything it can to improve. That includes expanding our universe of investment selections.
One defensive investment tool we started using in 2019 and that became handy in 2020 was the use of so-called “buffer” funds. Buffer funds are intended to track specific underlying indices, like the S&P 500 or the Nasdaq-100, but with protection buffering against loss. We’ve probably overexplained these investments to clients who used them. Still I’ll give the gist of it here for new clients.
Depending on when you buy a particular buffer fund you can, for example, protect the first 9% or 15% of your investment form a stock market correction. The “cost” of that protection is that there is a cap on your return. For example, if you bought the S&P 500 Buffer ETF (symbol: BNOV) on November 1, 2020, any drop under 9% from that date would be protected until November 1, 2021 (when the ETF resets on its anniversary date). In exchange for that protection, your maximum return between those two dates would be 18.07%. For most years, 18.07% is pretty good return. We’ll keep those arrows in our quiver.
There are a few big things we’re working on currently that, I believe, will be of significant value to our clients. The 2021 year-end letter is already half written in my head!
Oh, yeah. That $10,001. The amount started at $10,000, and we threw in the extra buck as an inside joke. I started another company for business owners that want to grow and/or sell their business. The company’s name is 10,001 Hours (10001Hours.com).
That $10,001 bonus, the small business initiatives, the acquisition of the PPE, and the rest of the efforts we made in 2020 were a continuation of the community development efforts we have made in previous years. Just more, because 2020 needed more.
BMM is only as strong as the community we call home. When the Berkshires thrive, Berkshire Money Management thrives. We will continue to be there for our clients and the community in what I know will be a challenging 2021.
Disclosures: The listing of organizations should not be construed as an endorsement or a recommendation to retain BMM by these entities. The Best in the Berkshires 2020 award should not be construed as an endorsement of BMM or a recommendation to retain BMM for advisory services. BMM provided no direct or indirect financial considerations for participating in this ranking/award.