Authenticity matters

By Melissa Shin | January 1, 2012 | Last updated on December 5, 2023
3 min read

Clients are tired of the cookie-cutter approach to financial planning. And if the speakers at the second-annual Vancouver edition of Advisor Group’s women’s conference Investing in You are any indication, so are advisors.

“After 30 years, I hate the phoniness of our business. I hate the sales pitch,” said Nancy Shewfelt, senior vice president at Wellington West (now National Bank Financial). “Don’t give me some standard financial plan that sounds like everybody else’s. I want something that resonates with me, meets my lifestyle goals, and [proves] you understand who I am and what matters to me.”

Together with her daughter Caroline Hanna, an investment advisor, Shewfelt presented the long-term vision for their practice, which is built on close, multi-generational relationships with clients. Hanna will succeed Shewfelt within five years.

Part of their secret to success is understanding what really matters to clients. They’re not afraid to ask personal questions, such as “How is your marriage?” or “How is your relationship with your children?” This helps the mother-daughter team get to clients’ real goals. And that’s important, because clients aren’t going to present their real goals to you in financial terms—it’s the advisor’s job to make the translation.

<img src=”” alt=”Debt maven Stephanie Holmes-Winton” style=”float:right; padding:7px;”

Halifax advisor Stephanie Holmes-Winton stressed this during her presentation on debt and cash-flow management. Goals are never dollar amounts, she said. “It’s always a feeling or accomplishment.”

Holmes-Winton also centres her work on clients’ personal needs. “Your clients do not go home at night and cuddle up to their mutual funds statements,” she pointed out. “The numbers only matter [because of] the life they will provide.”

She says she works on a neglected aspect of clients’ finances because people can’t have good lives if they’re drowning in debt.

“Managing debt is a conduit to getting clients what they actually want,” says Holmes-Winton. “I do a lot of planning around how many days a week they get to stay home with their kids.”

Audience members asked how Holmes-Winton gets paid.

“This is not volunteer work,” she said. She charges $170 an hour for an initial consult and $1,500 for a cash-flow plan, and never does free consultations. Why? “I make a $150,000-to-$300,000 difference” for clients by controlling their spending.

Sybil Verch on pricing your value

However, most advisors in Canada underestimate the value of their services, said presenter Sybil Verch, a vice-president and investment advisor at Raymond James. A recent study showed price drove the clients’ decisions in hiring financial advisors in only 4% of cases. The main actual factors in the decisions were the performance and expertise of the advisor.

“Price is only an issue in the absence of perceived value,” Verch said.

Verch challenged attendees to change their pricing structures to reflect everything from their degrees and years of service to their professional development. “Do your clients know you’re here today?” she asked. Most shook their heads no. “Tell them.”

Communicating value effectively means clients will understand why they’re paying you. And that value includes passion for the work.

That’s something Kathy McGarrigle, Coast Capital’s chief operating officer and the day’s keynote speaker, has in spades. Her 25-year career has taken her from working for a boss who assigned her to fetch his children’s diapers to being a quota female on an international banking team. She left that lucrative and globally mobile position to join Coast Capital because she bought into the company’s core beliefs.

“Values are at the core of that indefinable thing we call fit with an organization, and if you don’t have fit, you will be challenged to find fulfillment and purpose in your work,” she said.

She’s encouraged by advisors’ desire to get to the heart of what clients want. “This is a time of tremendous opportunity for women, where authenticity is valued and transparency is expected,” she said. “It’s a time when being yourself is actually cool. So here’s to you being you—with everything you have.”

With files from Lena Smirnova

Melissa Shin headshot

Melissa Shin

Melissa is the editorial director of and leads Newcom Media Inc.’s group of financial publications. She has been with the team since 2011 and been recognized by PMAC and CFA Society Toronto for her reporting. Reach her at You may also call or text 416-847-8038 to provide a confidential tip.