Emergencies and disasters can happen anytime, anywhere, and often without warning. Last year, Hurricane Sandy caused significant and wide-ranging damage, which led to the closure of the equities and options markets on October 29 to 30, 2012. As a fiduciary, Merriman has a responsibility to protect our clients’ interests from risks resulting from the inability to provide advisory services due to a disruption in business, such as a natural disaster. A Business Continuity Plan (BCP) provides guidance regarding the steps and actions that should be taken in the event of an unanticipated interruption of normal business operations.

Here are the top five ways a BCP helps to minimize the effects of emergencies and disasters:

  1. Reduce downtime. Every hour business is down is time we miss helping our clients. Having a BCP helps us get back up and running more quickly. In the meantime, since Merriman is not a custodian, our clients are also able to call Schwab and Fidelity directly if we are ever temporarily unavailable.
  2. Ensure important business operations continue. Some of our day-to-day work is flexible and can be done at any time, but other tasks are time sensitive and cannot be delayed. A BCP helps identify mission-critical staff and processes.
  3. Allow for remote operation. If we are unable to get to our building (for example, due to a large snow storm), employees can work from a remote location via remote desktop connection. We also have a virtual phone system so that if the phone lines in the building are down, all incoming calls can be routed to employee cell phones and/or home phones. In addition, this year we switched our email to Office 365, which is cloud-based – meaning our email is accessible from any location as long as there is an Internet connection.
  4. Protect important information. Merriman keeps electronic copies of important documents so that information is not lost in the event of a fire. We also back up our data so we have redundancies in place in case a server goes down.
  5. Take care of everyone in the office. We have an emergency food and water supply that is restocked annually in case we are forced to stay in the building for a period of time.

It’s not enough just to have a plan; we also need to make sure it works! Every year Merriman conducts BCP testing using simulated disasters to ensure we are prepared for a variety of crisis situations. We take what we learn from our testing and update the plan as needed.

If you are interested in reading more, the SEC, CFTC and FINRA jointly released this advisory alert that addresses the importance of implementing and testing a Business Continuity Plan.