Your elderly client can no longer drive due to poor eyesight. His daughter drives him to your firm to meet with you and accompanies him to your office, where she sits down beside him. How should you proceed with the meeting?
Financial planning content specialist, Learning Partner, Meaford, Ont.
If you’re a CFP, you can’t disclose personal information without written and informed consent—and that includes disclosing information to a client’s children. At the start of the meeting, ask your client about the daughter’s role. For example, does she have power of attorney (PoA) for property, and is it effective? If not, explain to your client that your meeting won’t be confidential if the daughter is present.
You might want to ask if your client wants his daughter present because he’s having trouble understanding things, if that is a concern based on previous client knowledge. A potential capacity issue should formally be resolved, however, with a power of attorney, and advisors can consult their compliance departments if they have concerns about client capacity.
When advisors discuss PoAs with clients, they should explain what power the appointed person has over finances when the PoA becomes effective.
After the discussion, if the client still wants his daughter present, get him to sign a waiver acknowledgment. Be clear that you won’t disclose information to the daughter if, for example, she phones you, and that the waiver is only for meetings when the client is present. Disclosure to the daughter alone would require further written acknowledgment.
If the daughter proves to be pushy as the meeting progresses, contact your client when he’s alone to ensure any decisions were truly his own. Again, advisors should consult their compliance departments to confirm how best to proceed if undue influence is suspected.
Co-owner and content specialist, C’Life Inc., Toronto
One way advisors serve clients’ best interests is by respecting confidentiality.
The advisor might want to have this client discussion in private, requesting that the daughter step out momentarily. That way, the client can freely express whether or not he wants his daughter present—clients sometimes speak differently when they’re alone.
Also, the meeting might involve sensitive decisions affecting the daughter, such as beneficiary designations on a life insurance policy, and the advisor’s obligation is to the client, not the family.
Document everything about the client meeting, including what is discussed and agreed.
Keeping private information private
FPSC’s Rule 21 says a CFP can’t disclose personal or confidential client information without written and informed consent (unless authorized by legal authorities or in cooperation with an FPSC investigation).
Guidance accompanying the rule explicitly warns not to presume client consent where a client brings a family member, spouse or third party to a meeting. Other situations that pose a risk to confidentiality include meetings at coffee shops, and discussions in shared spaces such as office reception areas and elevators.
The MFDA’s Rule 2.1.3 likewise requires a client’s prior written consent to disclose confidential information (legal purposes excepted).
More broadly, the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act is a federal privacy law that sets the ground rules for how private-sector organizations collect, use and disclose personal information.
The confidentiality section of the FPSC’s ethics code says client information must be secured, protected and maintained in a manner that allows access only to those authorized.
Similarly, Part 11 of National Instrument 31-103 establishes general requirements for firms to maintain records of, for example, client transactions and to demonstrate compliance with securities law.
To contribute your own ethical dilemmas or conduct quandaries, please email Michelle Schriver.