Make your practice senior friendly

By Rosemary McCracken | March 07 2012 09:29PM

Linda Hartford works almost exclusively with clients over the age of 65. “It takes a certain personality to work with older people,” said the director of wealth services at BMO Harris Private Bank in Victoria, B.C. “You need to have patience and compassion, and be willing to listen and take the time to explain. Many of our clients don’t use e-mail. They want to talk to us on the phone and in person.”
Ms. Hartford’s office is in downtown Victoria. There’s parking nearby and a city bus stops in front of the building. A ramp leads up to the front door and an elevator is available to take clients to her second floor office. “I meet some clients at the front door,” she said, “and we use a main-floor office.”

A financial planner for 29 years, Jennifer Christensen, executive financial consultant with Investors Group in Toronto, said many of her older clients have aged with her. Many of them are more comfortable in their own homes so she makes a point of visiting them there. “They’ll have all their papers at hand, and they don’t have to fight traffic and pay $25 parking in mid-town Toronto.”
Canada’s largest demographic group, the baby boomers, started to turn 65 last year (2011). In coming years, financial advisors’ practices will increasingly be made up of older clients who will control a large percentage of assets under management. It is in advisors’ interest to attract and retain these clients.

“An investor decides whether or not to work with an advisor with the introductory handshake,” said Bill Hill, Royal Bank of Canada’s Toronto-based national retirement planning consultant. “Don’t let your environment negatively influence that decision. Does the client have to fight traffic and hunt for parking to get to you? Is it difficult to navigate around your office?

“And look professional,” he added. “It’s difficult to overdress, unless you’re wearing a tuxedo.”

Once the introductions have been made, the most important thing advisors can do is listen to their older clients. At the age of 45, Ms. Hartford noted that she is at a different stage of life than her clients. “They have different concerns: many have health issues, some have cognitive issues and some are thinking about end-of-life issues. They want to know what kind of legacy they will leave, whether their family will be provided for when they go, or if someone will be there to take care of their needs if they are no longer able. I need to listen to these concerns. And listen to what they are not saying.”

Although the financial services industry revolves around money, Mr. Hill said advisors need to understand their clients’ needs, goals and fears before they start talking about their money. “You’ll never get to the money unless you make that personal connection.”

At the age of 57, he noted that the past four years have been the most difficult financial period he has witnessed. “It’s been especially stressful for those living on their investments or about to do so. Many of these people are afraid, and advisors need to understand their fears.”

And make sure they understand you, he added. “Don’t use financial jargon. You’re dealing with intelligent people but they do not work in your field.”
Never make assumptions, he said, because boomers and seniors are not all alike. “Some will be up on technology and the latest electronic gadgets, and others won’t. Some like to communicate by email, while others want to speak to you on the phone or in person.”

Some boomers have built successful careers or businesses, and have made sound investments. But others face financial challenges. “Many boomers have a lot debt and have not put much money away for retirement,” said Helen MacCormack, a financial planner with IPC Investment Group in Georgetown, Ont. “Many still have elderly parents and have kids to educate when it’s time to retire.”

Look at assumptions

Rhonda Latreille, founder of the Age-Friendly Business in Burnaby, B.C., which offers the certified professional consultant on aging designation, suggested that advisors look at their own assumptions about aging and find out whether they hold up. “If you equate age with decline, not only have you got it wrong,” she said, “but you may be offensive.”
Nobody should have to work hard to have you manage their money, she added. “You should be doing everything in your power to make clients feel comfortable working with you. Boomers, especially, are not going to put up with an attitude that implies they’ve declined. The bottom line in every business relationship is ‘What’s it for me?’ Your client wants to know how you are going to help him through the important life events he is facing.”

Ms. Latreille noted several physical changes that people experience as they age:

Difficulty reading small print.

“The speed at which we process thought slows down with age, but sometimes this means we are thinking better,” she said. “Just because a person takes his time doesn’t mean the quality of his thought or work has declined.”

High-tone deafness often begins in the 50s. “You may need to speak more slowly, enunciate clearly and lower your voice. And always follow up in a letter or e-mail if a client has any difficulty hearing.”

But never associate physical decline with mental decline, Ms. Latreille said.

“My older clients have lost none of their mental acuity,” Ms. MacCormack said. “They ask good questions. They know what’s going on with the markets, and they have the time to watch their money.”

But if a client appears to have cognition problems, Ms. Christensen said Investors Group advisors contact the company’s legal department for guidance. “If the client has a son or a daughter who holds power of attorney,i’ll contact this person. Without disclosing any of the parent’s financial information, I will say that I am concerned about the parent’s mental awareness.

“Before a cognition problem develops,” she added, “it’s a good idea to ask the client’s permission to contact the person who holds POA, and get this permission in writing.”