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‘We were lucky’: Miami’s wealth industry returns to work in Irma aftermath

‘We were lucky’: Miami’s wealth industry returns to work in Irma aftermath

While South Florida assesses the damage and returns to normalcy following Hurricane Irma’s landfall on Sunday, wealth and investment firms across the region have fallen back on contingency plans until advisors can return to their offices.

Images of Brickell Avenue on Sunday showed a fast moving river as Hurricane Irma flooded the financial district, often referred to as the Wall Street of South Florida. The water was reported to hit highs of five feet in some areas.

Despite the damage, the lead up to the storm gave businesses days to prepare for the worst. On Thursday Hurricane Irma was forecast to hit downtown Miami directly, but on Saturday it shifted course to head up Florida’s west coast.

Rocio Harb, Miami branch director for Investment Placement Group said: ‘Leading up to the hurricane it was very similar to a disaster zone. There was no gas, no water… but we had support from our San Diego office. Our CEO was actually visiting us from San Diego and was able to leave by Thursday before the storm hit.

‘We had a plan that if this was very damaging, our advisors and I would work from San Diego. If this hurricane would have hit us head on it would have been much worse. We were lucky it didn’t hit us.’

Harb expects to return to the 1111 Brickell Avenue office when it reopens, and a number of IPG’s advisors are traveling back following mandatory evacuations in the area.

Millions of people in Florida remain without power and schools across the state remain closed with the earliest reopening on Friday.

Wirehouses UBS, Wells Fargo and Morgan Stanley have relied on call centers and advisor networks outside of Florida to aid any client requests.

A spokeswoman from Morgan Stanley confirmed its wealth management offices in Miami, Aventura, South Florida and Tampa were currently closed and it would work with local officials to determine when employees should return.

Wells Fargo chief risk officer Mark Hubert said the firm’s top priority is ensuring the safety of its associates, adding: ‘Our associates are equipped to work remotely, as needed, and we continue to reassess coverage plans depending on facts and circumstances in our impacted markets.’

Raymond James expects to reopen its headquarters in St. Petersburg on Wednesday.

Ultralat chief executive Juan Pablo Galán said the firm’s Miami business, located on 801 Brickell Avenue, has continued to operate through its team in Bogotá, Colombia and its team members who evacuated to Atlanta and New Orleans, as per its contingency plan.

‘These types of events have given us the opportunity to test our level of preparedness for catastrophic events. We’re very satisfied with our ability to anticipate, react and execute during this natural phenomenon that notably affected South Florida,' he said. 

As its offices also did not see any damage Galán expects to return business as usual by Thursday.

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