“I expect my advisor to keep me focused with a plan, so I meet my monthly savings goal. Regular followup a couple times a year would help.”
–Dan Slipp, 31
real estate appraiser, MBA grad
Dan knows his goal: to pay himself each month. He needs the tools to reach that goal. Turning intention into reality requires a budget—most Canadians don’t have one. A budget will help him identify a realistic savings goal, which he can increase as his earning power increases. He should track spending for a full year, ideally, to create a realistic budget and internalize spending habits.
For banking, I suggest the bucket strategy: one bucket for immediate needs, one for mid-term savings and one for long-term savings. That translates to a daily account, a secondary account and an investment account.
Dan should regularly transfer some savings (determined by his budget) to the secondary account. (He can use automatic transfer and make this account inaccessible by debit card.) From this secondary account, he makes a pre-authorized contribution a month later to the investing account. The delay means he can easily withdraw from the secondary account for an emergency. The secondary account thus creates a psychological/mechanical barrier to the money.
As Dan’s advisor, it would be my job to follow up regularly with calls or meetings and troubleshoot, if needed. Did he stay on track with his savings? If not, why? Dan may need a second look at his budget.
“I expect my advisor to keep in mind my position as a freelancer. I’m frugal, and I want a plan that gets me to retirement debt-free.”
–Marie-Christine Payette, 36
translator-editor, ardent traveller
La Tuque, Que.
From each paycheque, freelance professionals must save for two things: retirement and income tax. I’d help Marie-Christine save for both by creating a plan where we work backward from the end goal. [I’ve found that] such a plan, with actual calculations for regular savings, inspires women, in particular, to stay on track.
She says she’s frugal, but I’d suggest she track expenses to be sure. For instance, freelancers might spend more on networking (lunches, coffee) than they realize. I’d also ensure her mortgage or other debt is paid down.
When revenue streams or personal circumstances change, so must her plan. Some years she’ll be short on savings, so she’ll [want to] increase savings in other years.
As her advisor, I’d be readily available by email and phone to manage changes.
Before each meeting, I’d set an agenda and send it to her. What’s changed? What concerns her now? Does she avoid certain investments, like oil or munitions? I’d build these concerns into her investment policy statement.
“I expect my advisor to be direct and accurately communicate risk because I’m making decisions for my family’s future.”
–Matthew Murphy, 33
HR professional, new father
In conversation, we advisors easily fall into [using] acronyms and technical information, which doesn’t help clients, who crave simplicity. Don’t try to impress with your breadth of knowledge.
Matt has a young family, so it’s time to talk insurance to cover the risk of lost income. I’d ask him, “What if you or your wife can’t work for some reason?”
At his age, he wants the most coverage for the least money—nothing fancy, just a plan with living benefits that covers his mortgage and puts food on the table. When deciding on coverage, he should consider childcare expenses and lowered income if he or his wife works less as the family grows. The term of his policy depends on the age of his dependents. With kids under five, he probably wants T20.
He’s in the high-expense years, with a lot of demand on his income. His financial plan shouldn’t be another burden. If he can’t afford 100% insurance coverage right now, whatever he can manage is a great start to build on later.
“Given my long time horizon, I expect my advisor to inform me of cyclical opportunities in the markets.”
–Meagan Fritsch, 31
pro chef, business student
Meagan shouldn’t get hung up on cyclical trends or opportunities. Markets fluctuate, tax laws and government policies change, and market timing doesn’t work consistently. Instead, she should save, diversify her investments and allow time to work in her favour. Many young people where I work—Calgary—try to make big money investing in the oil sector, and they don’t diversify. If Meagan enjoys buying and selling stock, she can take 10% of her savings and do that. But that 10% won’t be part of her sound financial plan.
To back up my investment advice, I have a file of articles from, among others, the Wall Street Journal, that make the same point: save and diversify for the long term. When I share a sample of the articles with Meagan, she’ll see for herself that my position is widely held, and in her best interest. She’ll more easily trust my advice.
“I expect my advisor to work for me, not herself. I don’t want jargon or a hard sell; I just want honest, direct advice.”
–Emily Jones, 35
communications specialist, mother
Port Colborne, Ont.
To understand Emily, I’d ask relevant questions and listen without judgment, repeating back what she says to make sure I get it. One example is, “What keeps you up at night when you think about money?” Such a question opens the discussion to talk more personally about fears, concerns and goals.
I’d do a few scenarios and create a one-page, bottom-line document based on what Emily tells me. The document would show her the reality of where she is and where she’s going. This helps her take ownership of her finances.
To help get her plan working, I’d email a budget planner in a spreadsheet so she can record expenses for three months and, thereby, stay on track. I might set her up on automatic contributions, and I’d refer her to other professionals as needed, such as lawyers, accountants or mortgage brokers.
by Michelle Schriver, assistant editor of Advisor Group.