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Asking clients about their vaccination status tactically and normalizing the process are some ways advisors can protect themselves during the pandemic while maintaining good relationships.drazen_zigic/iStockPhoto / Getty Images

Asking clients about their COVID-19 vaccination status before meeting them in person can be tricky for advisors who have built relationships over years of face-to-face meetings.

The fact that most provinces have made vaccine passports mandatory makes it easier for advisors to meet with clients in a public place – putting the onus on government policy rather than on company rules.

But while it’s not mandatory for financial services firms to ask about vaccine status, some are requiring all staff and clients who enter their premises to be fully vaccinated.

Rob McClelland, vice-president, co-branch owner, and senior financial planning advisor with the McClelland Financial Group at Assante Capital Management Ltd. in Thornhill, Ont., says he requires all staff to be fully vaccinated and extends the same rule to clients who want to meet in person.

“We require clients who come into the office to be double vaccinated. We take their temperature when they come in and they wear a mask,” he says. “Once they’re seated at my desk, I have my mask on and I say to them, ‘If you’re comfortable, we can take our masks off. If you’re not comfortable, we can keep our masks on.’”

He has received no pushback from clients on his vaccine requirements, but if he does, he is ready to serve clients virtually.

“I know it would make for a better story if we had pushback, but we’ve had zero – nothing. In fact, full acceptance,” Mr. McClelland says. “They’re excited to be back in the office, which is really great because we can have a better meeting in the office. We connect better.”

‘No reason’ to ask all clients about vaccination status

Wolfgang Klein, senior vice-president, senior investment advisor, and portfolio manager at Canaccord Genuity Wealth Management in Toronto, says he’s only interested in a person’s vaccination status if they want to meet him or his staff face-to-face.

“We’ve had a few client meetings, but only in the boardroom. I do ask if they’re vaccinated for my own protection and for the protection of my family. But, certainly, we can accommodate,” Mr. Klein says. “I had one meeting outside with a person who was not vaccinated. They wore their mask and, respectfully, we socially distanced.”

Mr. Klein says technology has made it easy to meet clients virtually, so there’s no reason for him or his team to ask all clients about their vaccination status.

“We’ve always maintained a close relationship with our clients, be it face-to-face over lunch, through conference calls, or through e-mail,” says Mr. Klein, adding that clients have adjusted remarkably well during the pandemic.

“I’ve hosted more conference calls during the pandemic than I have in my entire career. That’s been a very advantageous means of communicating with clients,”

Vaccine mandate would ‘make advisors feel safer’

Greg Pollock, president and chief executive officer of Advocis, the Financial Advisors Association of Canada, says his members are seeing a few clients in person, but so far, vaccination status has not been an issue.

“The general consensus from conversations with our members has been that the small sample size of clients [5 per cent] who request to meet in person has been very co-operative with sharing their proof of vaccination,” he says.

Furthermore, he says most advisors are only meeting with clients in a safe manner – regardless of their vaccination status.

“What we’ve heard from our members is that their offices are open to serve clients with recommended safety measures in place, such as physical distancing and capacity guidelines,” he says. “Most advisors tell me that they know their clients well enough on an individual level to know whether or not they’re vaccinated.”

He adds many advisors would like to see a mandate on proof of vaccination in their industry because it would make them feel safer doing their jobs, and encourage their vaccinated clients to meet in person as well.

How to approach clients on vaccination

Nazeem Muhajarine, professor of community health and epidemiology at the University of Saskatchewan, says meeting indoors unmasked with unvaccinated individuals is a risk, but he understands client relationships are important to advisors.

As such, advisors should make it all about themselves when talking about vaccine status, he says.

“All of this needs to be done quite tactfully because you have a relationship with your clients. Maintaining, nurturing, and even building on this relationship is important for your business,” Dr. Muhajarine says.

“It’s always good to start with yourself before you ask questions about your clients. Tell them you’re fully vaccinated and that your business is concerned about people’s health and well-being – just as they are about their clients’ investments,” he adds.

Dr. Muhajarine says asking people about their vaccination status before meeting indoors should be normalized for everyone. That’s the best way to make it safe.

“Advisors may want to say, ‘I’m going to provide an option to consult with you online. If you’re not vaccinated, consult with me that way,’” Dr. Muhajarine says.