Financial advisers have been able to rely on technology and, in some cases, continue in-person meetings with certain precautions to finalize important changes to client accounts during the COVID-19 pandemic. That task has been far more difficult with clients who reside in retirement homes and long-term care facilities, which have had to lock out external visitors – including families and professional service providers – to protect their vulnerable residents.
Paul Bourbonniere, partner and investment adviser with the Polson Bourbonniere Derby Wealth Management team at HollisWealth, a division of Industrial Alliance Securities Inc., in Markham, Ont., is well aware of those challenges. He recently found himself arranging for a through-the-window witnessing of a new will at the retirement home where one of his clients lives, which had closed its doors to external visitors.
Standing outside the building with a colleague and a lawyer, all of whom were wearing protective masks and gloves, Mr. Bourbonniere watched as a staff member at the facility handed off the paperwork to the client, who signed the legal document. Then, they all waved at each other and went on their way.
While some provinces have introduced new rules to allow “virtual witnessing” of wills, powers of attorney and certain other documents, the experience Mr. Bourbonniere’s client had is the new normal for many across Canada who are isolated for their own safety – including those who don’t have access to, know how or prefer not to use the devices that support online video platforms.
Perhaps just as much of a challenge as arranging signatures for legal documents is simply keeping relationships with retirement home or long-term care facility residents strong at a time when in-person meetings aren’t possible.
“The phone call is the most powerful tool I think you have” for staying in touch with people living in locked-down facilities, says Michael Berton, senior financial planner at Assante Financial Management Ltd. in Vancouver. “For many of them, they’re not getting many phone calls. … So, they’re delighted to hear from me. The problem is controlling the length of the call. They want to talk because they’ve been stuck inside for so long.”
He says that the calls to these clients are mostly social in nature. “Although the financial news with markets the way they are isn’t particularly fun to talk about, they’re just so pleased to have that contact that that’s actually not among their highest concerns.”
Maintaining a social connection is critical for clients who cannot have visitors, says Karen Henderson, founder and chief executive officer at the Long Term Care Planning Network in Toronto. As a result, it may be necessary for advisers to schedule more frequent phone calls, send out newsletters, e-mail articles and send cards through traditional mail.
“[This situation] requires advisers to stay in closer touch with clients. So, instead of having, let’s say, an annual meeting, I would expect that they might want to pick up the phone or communicate with these clients [more often] in a way that’s comfortable for them because they will not have the comfort of that physical meeting, which helps to solidify everything,” Ms. Henderson says.
When it comes to conducting day-to-day business with clients who are in locked-down facilities, don’t rule out technology, says Peter Wouters, director, tax, retirement and estate planning services at Empire Life Insurance Co. in Toronto and faculty chair of the elder planning counsellor program offered by the Canadian Initiative for Elder Planning Studies.
He cites Capgemini’s World Insurance Report 2020, released in May, which states that it’s not just millennials who are embracing routine online and mobile transactions. Between 2018 and 2020, the percentage of people born in 1980 or earlier who shopped and paid bills digitally more than doubled to 64 per cent from 30 per cent.
“The digital divide between age groups has eroded,” Mr. Wouters says. “The challenge advisers may have is that they may not be as tech-savvy as they need to be.”
He says advisers should explore all the resources their firms offer, including training, and then embrace secure videoconferencing with split screens and screen sharing for clients in retirement homes and long-term care facilities, who may already be very comfortable with the concept because they’re communicating with friends and family members that way already.
Mr. Wouters says advisers should prepare a checklist for meetings, keep the language simple, avoid jargon and complex charts, and use pictures and stories to illustrate concepts.
The investments that advisers make to ensure their practices accommodate clients in retirement homes and long-term facilities care should pay off in the long term. That’s because there may be no going back once clients adapt to the use of technology to manage their financial planning needs.
Even as pandemic restrictions start to ease, Mr. Bourbonniere says he’s “still going to be very, very careful dealing with the senior population until there’s a vaccine or something that makes the face-to-face that much safer – [and] when [clients] realize that with a few clicks of the mouse things can happen, I think that’s going to be the preferred way even if face-to-face is completely fine.”