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As cottage communities grow larger, getting online is becoming easier for some as big telecommunications companies expand their mobile coverage.SUPPARSORN/iStockPhoto / Getty Images

This article is the first in a two-part series on how advisors can work from the cottage effectively. The second article examines the devices and software tools advisors can use to work remotely.

With summer now in full swing, many financial advisors are eager to get out of the office and head to the lake for their regular cottage sojourn.

For most advisors, though, it’s still important to be able to stay in touch with clients while away from the office. These days, that means being online. So, what’s the best way for advisors to stay connected at the cottage and ensure they’re available to deal with client emergencies?

Advisors aren’t alone in their quest for internet connectivity at the cottage. Working remotely from the lake is becoming a habit for Canadians who own waterfront property. The Federation of Ontario Cottagers Associations surveyed waterfront property owners and found that 30 per cent have worked from their cottages, with another 25 per cent considering it. But gaps in connectivity are still a significant challenge, the survey found.

Struggling for connectivity has always been part of cottage life, says Steve Bentley, managing principal at Northern River Financial Solutions Inc. in Waterloo, Ont., who regularly visits his cottage, which is 15 kilometres from the firm’s Huntsville, Ont., office.

“You need to find a strategy by which you can work the communication side of it,” he says. “There are a lot of cottages that don’t have that.”

Darren Coleman, senior vice-president, private client group, and portfolio manager at Coleman Wealth, a division of Raymond James Ltd. in Toronto, vividly recalls working remotely in the early 1990s at his cottage in Ontario’s Muskoka region before the internet was even available.

“I remember getting a pager that would message me if someone left me a voicemail,” he says. “That was pretty new at the time.”

Mr. Coleman gravitated to a dial-up modem in 1994, a couple of years after getting a phone line at the cottage. It trickled emails to his laptop at speeds that would seem glacial by today’s standards.

As cottage communities grow larger, getting online is becoming easier for some as big telecommunications companies expand their mobile coverage.

“There are obviously areas where there are dead zones, but typically, I’ve seen that things are getting better over the past few years from personal experience,” says Puja Subrun, senior director, national business solutions, marketing and marketing communications, at Telus Corp. in Toronto.

Community broadband providers also are constantly building out more capacity. For example, the Eastern Ontario Regional Network now covers 95 per cent of Eastern Ontario with a mixture of wired, wireless and satellite technology that cottage owners can access via their local internet service provider (ISP).

Mr. Coleman now has high-speed broadband wired modem coverage that enables him to act as though he’s at his office in Toronto. He uses a virtual private network from Pulse Secure LLC, which creates an encrypted “tunnel” through the internet between the laptop at his cottage and his desktop at the office. He sees the same desktop interface, applications and data as he would when sitting at his desk.

The broadband connection also enables him to make internet-based phone calls from his laptop using a softphone application from Cisco Systems Inc. This allows him to use the same telephone number that he uses at the office, meaning that clients always see the same familiar number when he calls – no matter where he is.

Despite the advances in internet coverage, advisors at cottages in smaller, more remote communities across Canada may still have trouble.

“Sometimes, it’s important to look at some alternative ways of having that internet connection,” says Mr. Bentley, who suggests that tethering a laptop to a smartphone can also work for short periods – as long as your data plan supports it.

People in rural areas who don’t have wireline high-speed internet can go one step beyond tethering their phone by using dedicated cellular hubs. Telus’s Smart Hub, Rogers Communications Inc.’s Rocket Hub and a range of third-party hubs from Bell Mobility all provide WiFi access in the home through the carriers’ cellular networks.

Alternatively, there are some rural wireless carriers that can provide people within covered areas with workable data connections. However, those services tend to be expensive and may include the need to pay for a site survey to confirm that access to the wireless carrier is available.

That was the choice for Betty-Anne Howard, certified financial planner at Athena Wealth Management, part of IPC Investment Corp., in Kingston, Ont. She expanded an existing antenna atop her log cabin on a private lake in Lyndhurst, Ont., into a 70-foot communications tower. It enabled her to connect with an ISP providing wireless rural connectivity.

“We paid for the build-on and also had to sign a waiver,” she says “If the growth of the trees interfered with our reception, it wasn’t going to be their responsibility. We signed. What else could we do?”

As a last resort, though, Mr. Bentley suggests that advisors “need to know the spaces where they can go and find that connectivity. It might be a coffee shop or a friend who has better connectivity.”

That constrained access might be a good thing because it forces advisors to limit their work time and allocate the rest of the day for what the cottage is really all about: resting, enjoying the summer weather and spending time with family.