Toronto is not the centre of the universe—and few know that better than advisors working in rural and remote areas. We spoke with three who say they’d never work in big cities, and their experiences are instructive for advisors all across Canada.

Meagan S. Balaneski

Advantage Insurance and Investment Advisors

Where I work:

Vermilion, Alta.,

population 3,930 (with 27,800 in neighbouring Lloydminster)

Meagan Balaneski

How I got here

I took over my own book at age 25. I was leaving Fort St. John, B.C. because my husband got a job in Lloydminster. I approached the local Manulife advisor in Vermilion and asked if she needed a junior advisor; instead, she offered to sell me her book because her husband was ill. I moved here in October 2010, and [the book owner’s] husband died in December, so we didn’t spend much time together. And because of her history with a previous business partner, she had a contract provision saying we couldn’t let clients know I was taking over [ahead of time].

I would have preferred an open transition. But her circumstances, understandably, shifted her priorities.

Types of clients

We have 500 clients who range from $2,000 in AUM to $1 million.

A lot of clients come from oil and gas money: young fellows who are self-employed, doing things you’ve never heard of, like coil-tube operating. They work 14-to-16 hour days, seven days a week, and are ridiculously hard to get a hold of. They’re typically the breadwinners, but my book is only slightly skewed male. Since we have spousal RRSPs, the whole family would become involved.

Read: Advising new breadwinners

Disability insurance is a huge thing—clients are always driving, going to the next site. In urban centres, people spend less time running into deer and moose. Highway 63 to Fort McMurray is two lanes and dangerous. Compared to urban areas, the risk in these clients’ industries might be higher.

If they’ve had someone close to them injured or sick, they’re fairly receptive to purchasing the insurance. Other than that, they’re young, generally male, and feel they’re invincible.

To convince them otherwise, I usually ask the wife, “How would you feel if he couldn’t work?” Then they get that we’re not just protecting their incomes; we’re also protecting their families.


How to help everyone

We have a client service matrix. Based on someone’s participation in the business, we give a time allotment. We take a person’s commission for one year and then find out how much it costs for meetings and prep and sending emails. We can tell her how much she’s purchasing. They’ve all been very receptive. They understand it’s a business. They don’t expect six hours a year if they have $2,000 sitting there.

On prospecting

I don’t know what actively prospecting would entail. For us, it’s about refining clients we already have and servicing any walk-ins. Including referrals, a person walks in once every two weeks.

[To earn credibility,] I’ve written columns for the Lloyd and Vermilion papers. I’m also the Treasurer of the Vermilion & District Chambers of Commerce, and a director of the Town of Vermilion’s Environmental Committee.

Compliance challenges

We have insurance clients in northern Saskatchewan, where no paramedical company will venture. It took about three weeks to convince one of them to send the lab kit to the client’s nearest hospital, which is still a long drive. Companies want to do the exams themselves. But some clients are six hours from the closest place they’ll go to (see “Paramedical policies,” below). Fedex doesn’t even go up there. We ended up Xpressposting the blood and urine samples.

The company lost the samples, and the client decided not to get the insurance. He said, “If it’s this much hassle now, imagine what’ll happen when I die?”

Read: A history of insurance rate repricing

Paramedical policies

We asked paramedical companies to share their policies for clients outside their firms’ service areas. While several declined to speak to us, MedAxio’s regional account manager for Ontario, Mark Wellman, says his firm partners with 250 community clinics, many of which are located in rural and remote parts of Canada.

If a clinic’s still inaccessible, “we can send a kit to the client’s nearest hospital,” where the hospital performs the tests, he says. “We’ll also try and get as much [of the test] done as possible over the phone.”

As for turnaround, Wellman says the company’s goal is to see all clients within seven calendar days, though turnaround in urban areas is usually faster. “For clients who live in remote areas, we still hold ourselves to a seven-day standard,” he says. If there are extenuating circumstances, “we’ll try to keep at most under 10 days.”

And, “if advisors have a lot of clients in remote areas,” he suggests they alert their paramedical companies “so we can ensure we either have a health professional available for them, or that we can [work with] a clinic or hospital that we have a relationship with.”

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