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Advisors should focus on helping clients find an equilibrium, says Alim Dhanji, senior financial planner at Assante Financial Management Ltd. in Vancouver.Rawpixel Ltd/iStockPhoto / Getty Images

Before the pandemic shutdowns, many pre-retirees dreamed of carefree days spent in the garden, golfing or reading a book with little on the to-do list.

At least that’s the stereotype, says retirement planner Susan Latremoille – and one many Canadians are rethinking after more than a year living with lockdowns.

Ms. Latremoille, co-founder and partner of Next Chapter Lifestyle Advisors in Toronto, says many of her clients have figured out that spending long hours at home, with little to do, doesn’t offer the contentment they imagined. Many are rethinking what retirement life looks like.

“COVID has been really a dress rehearsal for the retirement you don’t want to have,” says Ms. Latremoille, a former wealth advisor who sold her book of business with Richardson GMP Ltd. in 2019 to launch her own retirement lifestyle-planning firm.

Many of her clients are anxious to return to a time when they can fill their schedules with activities, including those in retirement, like volunteering or taking up part-time work or investing in hobbies that may require more money to fend off boredom.

The shift in attitude has, in some ways, made retirement planning easier, Ms. Latremoille says.

“If there’s any silver lining to COVID ... it has been that it should propel people to think about what they want to do – and to actually make a plan,” she says.

Still, advisors need to help clients strike a balance between living a fulfilling life today and saving enough to sustain it for the future, particularly as people are living longer. For instance, some clients are looking to reorder their finances to buy recreational properties and other big-ticket items now, but also need to have enough to live comfortably in a retirement that could last several decades.

Advisors should focus on helping clients find an equilibrium, says Alim Dhanji, senior financial planner at Assante Financial Management Ltd. in Vancouver.

He encourages clients to start by getting into good habits with their budgeting.

“At the end of the day, you do have to juggle whether or not you want to make that purchase or go on a trip, as opposed to making sure you’re taking care of your retirement,” he says.

Having a will and power of attorney (POA) is also important to protect family members if you become ill or pass away, Mr. Dhanji says. He’s seen more younger clients talking about estate planning due to the illness and death they’ve witnessed during the pandemic.

Drafting a will and POA can be hard for some clients to deal with emotionally, but he says most clients feel more secure once the documents are in place.

“Having that in place is a huge weight off people’s shoulders,” he says, describing it as a “love letter to your family” because it means they are thinking of their loved ones’ well-being if they become seriously ill or die.

While having conversations with clients about loss and illness can be difficult for many advisors, the pandemic environment has been a chance for them to open up and build an emotional connection, says Rona Birenbaum, founder and certified financial planner at Caring for Clients, a fee-for-service financial planning firm in Toronto.

“It’s presenting an opportunity for financial planners that perhaps didn’t have those kinds of conversations as part of their regular day-to-day,” Ms. Birenbaum says. “There’s a way you can empathize, in some form or fashion, which makes the conversation a lot easier. If there’s no sense of vulnerability on the other side of the table, it’s not as easy to have that conversation.”

While some clients are looking to do more in retirement, others have been forced to put plans on hold due to a job loss or other interruptions in income, like family tragedies. Sensitivity is key, Ms. Birenbaum says.

For those who are struggling financially, she recommends advisors take them back to financial planning fundamentals, including building a cash flow plan, seeking government supports where eligible and cutting costs wherever possible.

However, she also believes in allowing for the occasional pick-me-up purchase, as long as there’s a plan to keep overall finances in check. For example, she believes it’s fine for a client to draw down on their retirement savings to do something enjoyable, like the occasional physically distanced dinner out, as long they have a plan to recover the money.

“Focus on what’s within the client’s control,” Ms. Birenbaum says.

She also cautions Canadians that can afford big-ticket items, such as a recreational property, to be careful about overspending in other areas of life, especially given the recent surge in prices.

Overall, she says advisors need to be empathetic with clients while helping them live for today and save for tomorrow. COVID-19 might have just made that easier.

“The priorities around whether it’s working from home, the importance of nature, or the importance of travel, all of these things are becoming much clearer to people, because they’re just sitting alone in their homes, coming to terms with what they miss,” Ms. Birenbaum says.

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