This year marks the 31st anniversary of Argent Financial Group. It is also the first year of our post-pandemic existence – which I believe is more important.
The first 30 years taught us how to build and run a client-centered organization that empowers talented professionals to do the right thing. The 31st year showed us, vividly, how valuable this approach is.
Argent thrived during the pandemic. We continued to hire great people, continued to give back to the communities we serve, and continued to grow. Client assets under our responsibility increased 29.7% from April 30, 2020 through April 30, 2021 – from $26 billion to over $34 billion.
Why did we succeed during such a difficult time? I think it comes down to the concept that undergirds everything we do: Trust. Professional trust management is our core service, and the fiduciary standard required of a trust officer – always putting clients’ interests first – guides all of our work.
But trust also extends to how we treat one another at Argent. Everyone who joins our firm has undergone a thorough vetting to assure they are indeed trustworthy – not just honest, but knowledgeable and possessing good judgment. That is, people who understand what the right thing is and do it. Quite simply, we trust our staff to do the right thing because they have earned that trust.
So, when the pandemic hit, we trusted our staff to take care of their clients. Rather than taking a top-down, centralized approach in which every client received exactly the same communication and every staff member was instructed exactly what to do and not do, we asked our staff to communicate with our clients on a one-on-one basis (as we already were). We continued our process of local people interacting locally. Of course, we supported our staff with information, materials, feedback and more – everyone had the full resources of our entire organization behind him – but we did not tell them what to do. We confirmed to them the authority to do what each thought was best.
Now, we were able to take this approach because of the kind of people who work at Argent – which is a combination of people who have worked here a long time, and thus know the ropes, and those who joined when their company merged with ours. This latter group has already run their own company, and run it well, because we only merge with solid firms, not turnaround cases. What am I going to tell these experienced people about serving their local clients that they don’t already know? It would just have been noise – nothing more than a distraction when they very much needed to focus on the task at hand.
This decentralized, locally focused approach guided not only our interactions with clients, but also how we ran the company during the pandemic. For example, decisions about coming back to the office have all been made at the local level, based on what is happening on the ground, not at headquarters. Case in point: We have two offices in Oklahoma – in Oklahoma City and Tulsa. The Tulsa office spent very little time working from home, whereas the Oklahoma City team is just now coming back to the office. The difference is that the Tulsa folks work in a stand-alone building, so they could totally control their environment. The Oklahoma City staff is in a multi-tenant building which they could not fully control – and, in fact, that building was effectively closed for a time. Two peer offices operated differently because of different situations – yet both served clients well with no service disruptions, and both grew. Both benefitted from trust.
From the very beginning, we have designed our company to last for generations – because the trusts we manage must last for generations. We are here for the long run. Of course, this is easy to say, but hard to prove, unless you successfully weather a once-in-a-generation pandemic –and not only survive, but thrive. I would never wish our world to live through such a traumatic period again, but it taught us a valuable lesson we might not have ever learned – that, even in the direst situation, trust in one another will get us through.