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To serve a more diverse clientele, financial planners must make their services more accessible, and firms must be more approachable, financial planning experts say.

A panel of financial planners offered insights on Tuesday at FP Canada’s Financial Planning Week conference at a virtual session entitled “Planning for a Diverse Clientele.” Panellists referenced various client segments, including LGBTQ2+, Indigenous, and artist clients.

According to Jeffrey Wu, president of Hao Wu Financial Solutions, a division of Sun Life, many people in the LGBTQ2+ community don’t feel comfortable talking openly about their personal finances to a planning professional, despite society’s move toward greater inclusivity.

“Talking about personal finances means talking extensively about our personal lives,” Wu said. “When people are fearful about sharing who they are to strangers, a lot of times they will simply choose not to engage.”

The situation results in obstacles to informed financial decision-making and hurdles in creating and preserving wealth.

“Lacking authenticity in these conversations means not giving proper advice,” Wu said. “And bad advice — or no advice — creates significant barriers in achieving [clients’] financial goals, and in turn, jeopardizes their overall well-being.”

He suggested planners refrain from making assumptions about clients’ personal situations and planning priorities. Also, “ask a lot of open-ended questions” when starting a client relationship, he said.

“Instead of working only on the numbers and projections, we also try to understand the clients hopes, their fears, their complex circumstances,” Wu said.

Chris Enns, a fee-only financial planner with Rags to Reasonable, a firm he founded that serves artists, said artistic careers and artists’ values don’t always fit with financial planning norms.

For one, topics such as wealth and income maximization “dominate the conversation” in financial planning, he said, and those things don’t reflect why artists pursued their careers.

“It can feel like you don’t belong,” Enns said.

That feeling gets reinforced at financial institutions, when the client can’t get a mortgage or is deemed uninsurable because of the nature of their work and income.

“If people aren’t willing to work with them and try to understand how they can fit their financial information into the boxes […] to apply for these products, what they hear is ‘no,’” Enns said.

“Then they walk away.”

He said the default on his forms and documents is “self-employment income.”

Johanne Plamondon, a financial advisor with Raymond James, has worked with several Indigenous clients over the course of her career and observed the barriers they face when accessing financial services.

For example, geographic access poses a challenge, as a lot of Indigenous communities are remote and have limited access to financial services, she said.

Poverty can be another factor.

“The idea of helping your kids, or creating intergenerational wealth, for many is nonexistent when you’re still struggling to have a basic bank account or struggling to meet basic needs,” Plamondon said.

Further, financial institutions can seem unwelcoming and intimidating, and she suggested they instead offer one-on-one support to Indigenous clients.

She also suggested planners could volunteer their services to these clients, including education, “to build trust and relationships.”