A Year in Review - A New Year's Letter

December 31, 2020

Each year on January 1st, Lisa and I find a great brunch place to review our prior year goals and to set new ones for the coming year. Our 2020 goals now seem from another age (especially when it came to our travel aspirations for the year). If I had known what was coming, just weeks ahead in February, I believe that I would have put the first goal on my list as, “For our family and friends to stay healthy until COVID ends”.

Reflecting on the past twelve months, I have been overwhelmed by the resiliency of both people and companies. In early March, businesses were required to become nimble and flexible to safely serve clients and customers, while adjusting to working from home and in many cases with new technology. “Zoom” is no longer just an adjective, but now a noun too! We saw entire industries expand as our habits changed and they adjusted to meet those new paradigms. Our scientists worked at “Warp Speed” to develop new therapeutics and ultimately a vaccine which will eventually create a return to some normalcy.

We experienced the loss of employment in entertainment, restaurants, and other service area sectors and the hardship and pain that creates, not just financially but emotionally as well. We have been unable to visit our parents when they sometimes needed us most and some of us have been unable to mourn and celebrate the lives of those we lost. And although weird at the start, we are now uncomfortable if we are not wearing a mask or practicing social distance.

But what have I learned in 2020? The lesson that I take into 2021 is to remember there are two parts of my brain. There is my “head” (thinking/intellectual brain) and my “heart” (feeling/understanding brain). In 2020, there was a lot of head information (i.e., Johns Hopkins’ COVID Map, daily news drips, reports from the field from our medical clients, and the volatile markets starting in February).

My head helped frame the proper analogies and help us as a firm communicate with you the changes we were making to keep everyone safe, the rebalancing and tax loss harvesting that was part of our process and your plan, and reminding us all of the historical context of past pandemics and other dark times. When I compared the current high infection and deaths from COVID-19 to the Battle of the Bulge (seventy-six years ago today), it was my head talking. That although dark and distressing events may be happening today, we need to step back and look out to the future and what it is likely to be as we head into spring and summer.

In 2020, however, head was not always sufficient. It was important to ensure that we always took the right investment action in accordance with your plan. We also had to give you the right support, confidence and empathy depending on how you felt. With jobs lost, markets in turmoil, personal health at risk, and separation from friends, colleagues, and family, we all needed to be heard from the heart. To listen and respond in constructive ways was essential. As my friend and Rabbi often says, “Joy shared is doubled, and grief shared is halved”.

The past year has reinforced that having a plan and a process in place is essential. All our clients have benefited from our disciplined process—we were able to buy the great companies of the world in the spring when they had temporarily declined in value and then trim them off into bonds when markets recovered. We were also able to create paper tax losses which reduced your 2020 potential tax bill. Our dynamic planning process has allowed us to reassure your head and heart when we can modify certain assumptions in your plan and then show you visually that you are still on track. We helped you support our community by encouraging and facilitating contributions to your favorite nonprofits NOW—when the need is great. (Our firm has also done this by supporting the USO, BEAM and preventing evictions via Legal Aid.)

2020 has also strengthened my conviction that we live at a truly amazing time! We are seeing advances in medicine, communications, technology, transportation, energy production and social awareness that we could not have imagined several years ago: from electric cars being cool and commonplace, to new renewable energy production exceeding all carbon-based production for the first time. New inventions, new industries, new ways of doing things. Amazing. These innovations will continue to expand as more of the world is connected.

Our firm also saw tremendous growth in 2020. We have been able to grow our expertise with a new hire, expand our client base with exciting new and prospective clients and strengthen our skills with and between our professional colleagues in estate, tax, insurance, and banking. We adapted to the new normal by offering virtual meetings and events and increased our communication with you via blogs and social media posts.

Those changes that we process with our head sometimes come with feelings of anxiety, fear, and concern. In closing, I am including two links below to sooth your heart.

  • This link contains fifty quotes relating to the change from 2020 to 2021—I hope you can find one or two to tack on your computer to guide you in the coming year. I like Michael J Fox’s quote “The more unexpected something is, the more there is to learn from it.”
  • This link is to a short musical video. As schools have had to innovate, it has brought forth tremendous creativity. At Casco Bay High School in Maine, student Charlotte Bowder had the idea of writing a song that would celebrate community amid social isolation. She recruited her friend Luthando Mngqibisa to sing co-lead and recruited 34 other musicians from 11 schools in 7 states to participate. I trust it will remind you that we humans are so creative and supportive, especially when we use both our head and our heart.
    We wish you all the best in the coming year.


Glenn Ullmann