There are too many Canadians who don’t understand the basics of financial planning, and some financial advisors have decided to do something about it by providing their communities with much needed financial education.
In turn, people in these advisors’ communities are gaining much valuable knowledge about their finances while advisors themselves are being rewarded with increased profiles and, in some cases, new clients in the process.
Suzie Graham, a certified financial planner (CFP) and financial consultant at IG Wealth Management in Oakville, Ont., hosts free, monthly 1.5-hour workshops focused on retirement income planning at Appleby College. The workshop she held this past May attracted 28 people, beating her usual average of 20 to 25 people – and that success prompted her to book dates in June, July and August.
“Everyone says, ‘Don’t do seminars over the summer because nobody will come.’ But I’m going to give summer seminars a try this year because nobody else is [doing them],” she says. “It’s just a great feeling to be able to provide all the knowledge I’ve gained in my 20 years in the industry to everybody – and you can see the looks on their faces and the nods. … Then, when I’m done, many of them request appointments, so that’s rewarding as well.”
Ms. Graham acknowledges that positioning herself as an educator is a business-building strategy. Her seminars are targeted specifically at people with more than $250,000 to invest – there’s a box to tick on the registration form – and she estimates that three to four attendees at each session become clients. “That might grow to five or six once I keep following up and staying in touch,” she adds.
Glenn Stewardson, a CFP and wealth-management advisor at Assante Capital Management Ltd. in Halifax, has taken retirement planning seminars to the next level. Three to four times a year, he hosts a six-hour workshop spread over Tuesday and Wednesday evenings – and a one-day accelerated 4.5-hour intensive workshop held on a Saturday morning – at Mount Saint Vincent University in Halifax. He also founded a company in 2017 – Joyful Retirement Seminars, which employs two people full-time – to sell the workshop to other advisors.
“Now, we have 18 advisors across Canada presenting our program,” he says. “They’re educators, they want to teach people, and at the same time, they want to meet new people. It’s a perfect symmetry of [people close to retirement who] are interested, they come to the class, they get educated, they have questions, and so they’re offered a one-on-one to come back to the instructor’s office and get their questions answered. Some of those people are actually looking for a new financial advisor.”
Mr. Stewardson says that everyone who signs up for the workshops attend – something he attributes, in part, to the enrolment fee of $95 per couple – and an average of two to three people from each of the 25- to 30-person workshops become clients. Like Ms. Graham, he believes holding the workshops at an institution of higher learning enhances the seminars’ credibility.
Meanwhile, Delores Moskal, a CFP in Yorkton, Sask., has found a different medium through which to educate Canadians. She started writing a financial blog – Money Matters and So Do Your Dreams – in 2014, in part, because it meant she wouldn’t have to spend a lot of time in client meetings repeating the same information. As an added benefit, she’s found that blog postings about topics people may be reluctant to discuss, such as estate planning, can be a good way to prepare clients for necessary conversations.
“The greatest need I find – if I have to pick a topic – is managing your day-to-day expenses. I think that everybody is really concerned about their cash flow without really saying it,” Ms. Moskal says.
The key to engaging readers, she believes, is to make the content inspirational: “Where it originally started was, I thought if I could get people to buy into their dreams, they were more likely to work on their goals … because understanding what your objectives are is one of the crucial steps in the financial planning process.”
For Ms. Moskal, blogs have a couple of advantages over seminars, which she has hosted in the past. First, there’s less of a time commitment for her audience – perhaps five minutes to read a blog post compared with an hour or more in a seminar. Second, reading is a private activity, and she has found that to be important in a small town where people think twice about being seen attending an in-person seminar.
Meanwhile, some of her blogs have found a second life in magazines for farmers while others have led to invitations to write for the local newspaper, building her profile in the community.
In order to educate clients properly and for advisors to be seen as the professionals they are, much time needs to be spent preparing the content for the seminars, blog posting or articles.
Ms. Moskal estimates that each bi-weekly post takes her at least 10 hours to research, write and revise. Ms. Graham quips that her first seminar took “every waking moment” to prepare – but now that she has learned her presentation inside and out, and made long-term decisions about the venue, advertising strategy and handouts, it’s much more efficient. Mr. Stewardson thinks he’s probably underestimating when he says the first Joyful Retirement Seminars workshop took him 150 hours to create – and overseeing an educational company isn’t an insignificant time commitment.
In addition to the time he spends running his advisory practice and Joyful Retirement Seminars, Mr. Stewardson also carves out time to educate potential donors on tax strategies related to charitable giving. To fit it all in, he’s a big believer in good time management and putting a priority on the impact he wants to have in his community.
“I can’t imagine not teaching,” he says. “There would be a void if I wasn’t educating.”