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Up in smoke

Antoinette Tuscano

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Dealing with the aftermath of Australia's devastating fires.

FACING THE WORST FIRES to hit Australia in decades were the loved ones, clients, employees, offices and properties of 16-year MDRT member Matthew Charles Collins. Those not directly affected by the flames breathed in the flinty gray smoke that clung to cities in the 100-plus-degree- Fahrenheit summer air.

“The smoke sits over Sydney every day and causes health issues, particularly to the elderly and those with respiratory disorders,” said Collins, of Mona Vale, New South Wales, Australia.

As Collins reflects on the fire, he shared some thoughts for other advisors on preparing for and handling a disaster.

Take immediate action. Disasters and crises, unfortunately, happen anywhere and to anyone. As Collins sees it, “You can hope and pray as much as you like, but, for goodness sake, take action. You can show empathy to your clients and comfort them. The best comfort we can give, though, is certainty and security by doing your job and being strong and practical.”

As this article goes to press, Collins had contacted all of his clients who live near the fire-affected areas, and, so far, no one had lost their homes. “I think the fact I checked up on them strengthened our relationship,” Collins said. Besides his clients, Collins also has 33 staff members who work in three offices he’s keeping tabs on. He also owns two farms that were in the path of the fires.

Check your own insurance. “I had two phone calls on the same day in late November,” Collins said. They were from the men who managed his farms. Despite tremendous efforts, the fires were unstoppable and Collins’ farms were expected to burn. “All the roads were closed, and I couldn’t go there to help. I was quite upset that day,” Collins recalled.

The next day, both men called back to say the locals had rallied and fought through the night, saving his farms.

After the close call, Collins re-examined his property insurance coverage and found himself underinsured on the farms. He hadn’t factored in the remote locations and the considerable extra expense of getting builders to the property. After the fires passed through, he increased his properties’ insurance coverage.

Consider what’s important. “Remember that you and your family’s personal safety are more important than material things,” Collins said. “Get your priorities straight before a crisis.” As long as you’re safe and you have the right plan and coverage in place, you can rebuild.

Keep everything backed up. It’s easy to work from anywhere if your offices are paperless and the documents are kept securely in the cloud, Collins said.

Help clients navigate what comes next. Once the crisis has passed, surviving and thriving in the aftermath becomes important.

“We have to work out how to best deal with insurance claims, costs to rebuild, what this means to clients’ ability to fund their lifestyles and retirement,” he said. For example, in Australia, the fires destroyed farms, so it’s “estimated food costs will skyrocket as food production and distribution will be so greatly affected.

“We shall have to see what happens. Everyone will be affected indirectly or directly,” Collins said. “This is expected to put a 0.4% dent in Australia’s GDP. The builders will have a boom time. The insurance companies are all offering premium waivers for those directly affected by the fires. The banks are offering to delay loan repayments. The country is rallying.”

While the fires were disastrous on many levels, it also brought this to mind for Collins: “Never doubt the human spirit. Never give up.”

In our daily, ordinary lives, we’ve all seen people acting selfishly. Yet in the midst of the fires, Collins saw “people fighting to save a neighbor’s house while their own home burned. You see the overwhelming response of everyone here in Australia and worldwide wanting to help. People are not bad, they just need something to jolt them into action every now and then.”

 

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