Episode 5: Run a senior-friendly practice

November 8, 2019

Episode 5

This episode, on Prosper:

Rhonda Latreille of Age-Friendly Business explains how to make your office, meetings and overall process welcoming to senior clients. Then, James Hunter of Echelon Wealth tells the story of how cognitive decline has affected his family while sharing lessons learned. Transcript below. See all our episodes here.


Hosted and produced by Bruce Sellery

Mixed and edited by Jason Perrier of Phizzy Studios

Editorial direction and visuals by the Advisor’s Edge team

© 2019 Newcom Media Inc.


Email: news.advisor@tc.tc

Web: advisor.ca/prosper

Twitter | Facebook | LinkedIn


Listen on Apple Podcasts Listen on Google Podcasts Listen on Stitcher

Text Transcript

Bruce Sellery: Hello, I’m Bruce Sellery. This is Prosper, the financial advisors podcast from Advisor’s Edge. Today, we’re focusing on seniors. Seniors are the bread and butter clients for a lot of financial advisors and yet many don’t do that great a job making them feel comfortable.

Rhonda Latreille: They represent almost half of our population here in Canada and they hold up to 80% of all the assets. They’re responsible for more than 50% of discretionary spending, and yet 40% of boomers will tell us that they feel ignored.

Bruce Sellery: Rhonda Latreille is the founder and CEO of Age-Friendly Business and she’ll have some tips on how to put out the metaphorical welcome mat. Then, how to work with a client suffering from a cognitive decline.

James Hunter: Like many families, we are in denial for a while and attributed her memory loss to just to simply, mom’s getting old. And she’s starting to tell the same stories over and forgetting the odd thing and leaving the plastic on the processed cheese when she made a grilled cheese sandwich. But then dangerous events start happening or things that are completely out of character.

Bruce Sellery: James Hunter from Echelon Wealth Partners brings his personal experience at home with his mother back to the financial advisor’s office. And prosperous practice, we get a tip from Rona Birenbaum at Caring for Clients. That’s coming up on Prosper.

Stefanie MacDonald:     Hi, I’m Stefanie MacDonald, group publisher of the Advisor Group at TC Media. Did you know Advisor’s Edge also hosts advisor events? We’ve recently held conferences about ETF’s, women in the financial industry, and improving your practice in Toronto, Vancouver, and Montreal. To learn more about our past and upcoming events, head over to our website at advisor.ca/events. But be sure to register early as most of our events sell out.

Bruce Sellery: I get so annoyed when I can’t find parking near where I want to go, but aside from effecting my deep-seated need to be efficient, it doesn’t really matter to me. But the same cannot be said for people with mobility issues, right? And a lot of seniors have mobility issues. They have got a hard time walking for five blocks or climbing stairs and dicey weather all in order to access a financial advisor’s office with insufficient parking. That is but one of many examples that we’re going to talk about. Rhonda Latreille is the founder and CEO of Age-Friendly Business and she joins us now to talk about what financial advisors can do to make their practices as welcoming as possible to seniors. Hello there.

Rhonda Latreille: Hi there Bruce.

Bruce Sellery:This parking example’s a real one. My mom had an appointment with her estate lawyer and she actually drove to the office a couple of days prior just to figure out where she would park. How would you frame the challenge and the opportunity when it comes to seniors getting their needs met by financial advisors?

Rhonda Latreille: Oh, well that’s an excellent question because there’s a tremendous opportunity out there for the professionals that get it. I’ll just give you a little bit of background to tell you how important this market is Bruce. When you look at both boomers and seniors together, they represent almost half of our population here in Canada and they hold up to 80% of all the assets. They’re responsible for more than 50% of discretionary spending. And yet 40% of boomers will tell us from an Ipsos Reid poll that they feel ignored by the professionals out there. And in a popular retirement city here in Victoria, an ad hoc interview was done and many of the seniors there said they felt downright invisible. Now just think about that, feeling ignored and invisible and the important and large and lucrative market that this provides is a tremendous opportunity for those that get it.

Bruce Sellery: So you’re a financial advisor, you get it, you believe in the stats, you see the people coming into your office and you want to do better by them. How do you audit your practice? Or what’s the list of things you should be looking at? Is it seating? Is it signage? Is it lighting? Is it parking? What are some of the things that they should do?

Rhonda Latreille: Oh my gosh, it’s all of the above. I’ve traveled throughout Canada talking about providing an exceptional service to boomers and seniors, and it’s not unusual for boomers and seniors to come up to me and say, “You know, the professionals that serve me, they know about their products and services, but they don’t know about me.” We have a wonderful example of one of our members in Manitoba, a young fellow, David, he took over his dad’s established insurance business. And he realized that he needed to learn about this marketplace. He took our training and he changed everything. He started to look at the customer experience right from on the telephone, what they’d experienced on the telephone, when they walk into the office, where’s the egress? Is it safe to get around? What about the art in the office?

Bruce Sellery: What about the art? Do seniors not like art?

Rhonda Latreille: Yeah.

Bruce Sellery: What do you say? The seniors don’t like art?

Rhonda Latreille: No, no. What kind of art.

Bruce Sellery: I’m just kidding.

Rhonda Latreille: They had there … Was it going to be welcoming, you know? Did they feel comfortable? Like it was something that they could relate to. And then when it came to the quality of the engagement, making sure that the seniors that they were working with could read their documents for goodness sakes. Could they read the stuff? Could they hear you when you’re talking? Do you have, even in your office, do you have perhaps reading glasses or a magnifying glass handy if somebody just needs to read the fine print? When you’re looking at some of the perspectives in the financial services contracts, often the financial planners wouldn’t necessarily have the ability to change that themselves if it comes from a third party, but they can make it easier for the folks to see it and where necessary. Think about your mom. How difficult would it have been for someone to have been able to maybe go to see your mom and make sure that she had the ability to get the service that she needed without putting herself at risk?

Bruce Sellery: How … What tips would you have for helping seniors for whom short term memory might be an issue? Now, I’m someone who I think short term memory can be an issue for, but I think as we age, certain things may not be as easy for us to keep on top of. So how can an advisor engage in that kind of support in an unobtrusive way that doesn’t question their sanity, but that’s helpful?

Rhonda Latreille: Yeah, helpful and respectful. That’s a really good question, Bruce. And we advise people to first of all, speak clearly and make sure that when you’re speaking with anyone, you’re looking directly at them. You don’t have your hands in front of your face, because obviously we all do a bit of lip reading when we’re trying to hear someone. And to speak in short sentences, give one point at a time. So don’t start putting together compound sentences with three or four instructions at once. It’s difficult for all of us to hold that kind of information. So one point at a time. Make sure they’ve got that and then move on to the next point.

Bruce Sellery: Sound is a big deal. I mean, there’s this stereotype that seniors are hard of hearing, but what I’ve been learning more about it is it’s not so much about the volume, it’s about the background noise. That they can’t filter out multiple voices. That they can hear them volume wise, it’s just that’s what makes it hard.

Rhonda Latreille: Yes, that’s true. It is the background noise that can often interfere with our ability to hear what’s right and present in front of us. And also in our 50s we start to experience high tone deafness and what that means is as we age, we progressively lose our ability to hear the higher tones. And so you can appreciate when people shout, they tend to put their voice up in their nasal cavity up there, and your capacity to hear that is now being challenged. So sometimes, of course you have to cross that volume threshold that you referred to, but you cross that threshold and sometimes just lowering your tone can make all the difference in the world.

Bruce Sellery: We’re starting to talk about some of the more intangible things. So parking, very tangible, communication, intangible. You wrote a blog post called Talking Dirty, which focused on how to communicate with seniors. You have to explain the headline and then give us some points that you would recommend people keep in mind.

Rhonda Latreille: Yeah. Oh gosh. What I find personally quite irritating and insulting is when people, often if they’re around kids or if they’re around seniors, they’ll get a little bit soprano.

Bruce Sellery: Right. Sing song. School teacher.

Rhonda Latreille: Yes. Yes. Why is that? You know, when start putting a sing song voice up or whatever, and the seniors that I dealt with, they just roll their eyes. Some of the seniors I deal with as well, they … I’ll ask them, how many people here like to be referred to as deary? And I have never had one person put their hand up and say that they wanted to be referred to as deary, and just ask them. How would you like for me to refer to you? Anne or Mrs. Smith or what would you prefer? And I had this one interview with a senior who was talking about a hairdressing shop that she goes to and she’ll literally call ahead of time to see if a particular person is on that day or not because of that whole deary, sing song thing.

Bruce Sellery: Right, right.

Rhonda Latreille: She just won’t go that day.

Bruce Sellery: How do you amp up your intuition such that the accommodations that you make are client led? And I say that because we don’t want to say that all seniors are the same in terms of their abilities or their disabilities or their challenges. Many people who are 50 have hearing challenges. Many people who are 95 have no such issues.

Rhonda Latreille: Yes. Yeah. And just be clear in your communications and check back. And for instance, I experienced some hearing challenges in my late twenties, early thirties and it obviously wasn’t an age related issue and I’ll share with the people that I have some hearing loss in my left ear. And so I will be checking to make sure that I have understood what you have said and just position in it that way so that they know that I’ll be looking and reading, as I say, reading their lips and checking back and just say and ask the other person you’re communicating with, I just want to check in and make sure Bruce, that I’ve been clear.

Bruce Sellery: So much of this is grounded in unconscious bias. In fact, all of the isms are grounded in unconscious bias, the sexism, the racism, the ageism. What are some techniques that financial advisors could try to reduce their unconscious bias? To make it just clearer to them?

Rhonda Latreille: You know, here’s the number one. That’s a good question. The number one question I would ask myself when I’m engaging with anyone, and especially an older person, is have I changed my motive engagement because this person is older? Would I behave that way if I were speaking with somebody who was 40, 30, 20? What are the assumptions that I’m holding and I’m bringing to the table? And if I wouldn’t have those assumptions for a younger person, that’s a clue that it’s giving you an opportunity to stand back and just explore and see whether or not you might have some unintentional ageism happening there.

Bruce Sellery: One of the best things I ever did, it was not by choice, but I injured my arm seriously and so I walked around for three months with this massive cast and all this stuff on my arms, so I couldn’t use it. It was so illuminating in terms of how the world is designed for people with two working arms and of course for people who can walk without assistance and all that stuff. Are there ways that we could borrow a wheelchair for a day and just see what it would be like for someone with a mobility issue to even enter our practice?

Rhonda Latreille: You know, that’s another good question. In our course, we have some experiential exercises that we engage in and it’s been quite illuminating. For instance, one of the things we have people do is to take an elastic band and twist it around their fingers to almost mimic an arthritic hand, and at first I thought, I’m not so sure that this exercise is impacting anyone or illustrative of what somebody could actually go through. And one time a young fellow came up and he had tears in his eyes and he said, now I understand what my mom is going through. And that one exercise really did it for him. We also have some hearing exercises that mimics high tone deafness and how difficult it is to hear some common words as you go through that process. You … Just something as simple as smudging a little bit of Vaseline on eyeglasses and see what it might be like if you had cataracts and you were trying to look at something clearly when there’s a bit of a fog that’s interfering.

Rhonda Latreille: Of course, when you said when you hurt your arm, yeah, that’s a real revealer right there.

Bruce Sellery: It’s real.

Rhonda Latreille: I broke my ankle a couple of years ago and was walking around with one of those boots and boy oh boy. As soon as I was on a sidewalk that was uneven and had cracks and maybe little dips in the concrete, it was very, very difficult to get around.

Bruce Sellery: And had to open a door that was 400 pounds.

Rhonda Latreille: And exhausting when you realize how much effort it takes to maneuver when you’ve got a cast or maybe you’ve got a cane or something and just to look at your environment, Bruce, I’ll share with you a great story with one of our members. He’s a branch manager in Ontario and he was in his office and he was hearing whack, whack, whack one day and he thought, what’s going on? He comes out and he notices an older customer and she was sitting at the counter, the transacting business and her cane was leaning up against the counter and it was highly varnished so it kept falling over and that was the noise he was hearing. And he said, before I started to think about these issues and take this training, he said I would have been kind of irritated by the interruption. He looked and thought, what can I do? Ran across the street to a hardware store and bought the …

Bruce Sellery: Got a stick on hook.

Rhonda Latreille: Peel and stick hooks.

Bruce Sellery: Yes.

Rhonda Latreille: You know, that … Those plastic hooks? And he got one, put it up there, grabbed her cane, hooked it on, proud as can be and said, “There you go misses customer,” whoever she was.

Bruce Sellery: One last question before we go, one of the dynamics that financial advisors need to navigate is when a client’s family is in the room and sometimes that’s super easy and it’s a family meeting and sometimes it’s contentious. There could be estate planning stuff that needs to be discussed or cognitive decline or whatever. What advice do you have for advisors on navigating who the client is and who the client needs to be? I saw this firsthand touring retirement homes, and I would look down at my papers to ensure that the person from the retirement home would not try and talk to me, because my mom’s the client, not me.

Rhonda Latreille: Oh, that is so important. That is so important and actually I’m glad you mentioned that, because that’s the first thing that a financial advisor has to be very clear on, not only from an interpersonal perspective but also from compliance and ethics. They have to be very clear as to who is their client and that’s the person that they take the transactional instructions from and that’s critical. That’s number one. And from a more interpersonal engagement viewpoint, as you mentioned, it’s not unusual that you’ll have service folks and even professional folks speak past an older person and speak directly to their adult children. How insulting is that?

Bruce Sellery: So many ideas, so much opportunity. Rhonda, thank you for your insight.

Rhonda Latreille: Oh, my pleasure.

Bruce Sellery: Rhonda Latreille, the founder and CEO of Age-Friendly Business. One of the things that you’ll also find on their site is information about their certified professional consulting on aging designation. Whole bunch of curriculum, whole bunch of resources. This is a really, really big opportunity for financial advisors and for the clients that you serve. Coming up on Prosper, there are a lot of factors that can affect a client’s mental capacity. Helping them and their families navigate financial matters during a cognitive decline can be a very delicate task.

James Hunter: The financial aspect of estate planning, all that was really locked down. My father, my mother worked with their advisor and had a really strong plan in place, which really helped the personal care planning after that. Juggling those two at the same time would be traumatic to say the least.

Bruce Sellery: James Hunter from Echelon Wealth Partners is here with lessons learned from his own very personal experience. And prosperous practice, a quick tip on building your business.

Rona Birenbaum: I think the most important thing is for you to decide what you will not pay attention to.

Bruce Sellery: And when you have a second, sign up for our daily e-newsletter and subscribe to our print magazine. You can do that on the website, advisor.ca, and while you’re there, you’ll find articles on industry news, tax issues, investments, insurance and practice management. Stay with us. We’ll be right back.

Stefanie MacDonald: Hi, I’m Stefanie MacDonald, group publisher of the Advisor Group at TC Media. Advisor’s Edge is committed to your professional development. We’ve collaborated with our sister publications to create CE Corner, the premier continuing education destination for Canada’s financial professionals. At CE Corner, we have useful courses to enlighten and challenge you while helping you meet your professional obligations. Go to CEcorner.ca to earn credits from IIROC, FP Canada, the Institute, and Provincial Insurance Regulators. That’s C-E-C-O-R-N-E-R.CA.

Bruce Sellery: The longer the life we live, the higher the likelihood that we will experience some sort of cognitive decline. I know. That’s a cheery thought. It could be mild and manageable or it could be severe. A decline that removes our ability to effectively manage our financial affairs. Now, financial advisors can play a really, really important role in navigating these issues with clients and with their families. James Hunter is the head of wealth management at Echelon Wealth Partners. He joins us now. Hello there.

James Hunter: Hi. Thanks for having me.

Bruce Sellery: This is a tough topic. Now I am so lucky in that I have a really solid relationship with my parents and I could bring this up and it wouldn’t stop traffic, but for some people it would be a very, very difficult conversation to have. You have skin in this game. You have a personal experience that I’m sure informs your professional view of how these conversations need to unfold. Tell us a bit about the situation that you had with your mom.

James Hunter:  Absolutely. So I did see my mother on the weekend, drove down to Niagara and saw her in her long-term care facility. She is in the advanced stages of Alzheimer’s. Her decline was far more rapid than we had expected. Like many families, we were in denial for a while and attributed her memory loss to just simply, mom’s getting old. She’s starting to tell the same stories over and forgetting the odd thing and leaving the plastic on the processed cheese when she made a grilled cheese sandwich, but then dangerous events start happening or things that are completely out of character, and that’s when you have to either formulate a plan which is probably a little too late, jump into action and panic a little bit. So it was a rough several years until we finally got things settled.

Bruce Sellery: Was she working with an advisor? A financial advisor?

James Hunter: Yes. My mother and father were working with a financial advisor. The financial aspect of estate planning, all that sort of thing was really locked down. My father, my mother worked with their advisor and had a really strong plan in place which really helped the personal care planning after that. Juggling those two at the same time would be traumatic to say the least.

Bruce Sellery: The stakes are pretty high on this, both emotionally and financially. If things hadn’t been so locked down in your case, I can imagine it would have introduced a level of complexity that would have been really challenging.

James Hunter: And that is why it’s so important for advisors to be looking at this. Our regulators are giving us guidance now in terms of how to handle clients with diminished capacity. The issue is only going to get greater and greater as we have an aging population. The baby boomers are getting older. We’re seeing issues becoming far more prevalent in an advisor’s book of a business on a daily basis.

Bruce Sellery: And early onset can be in your 50s, right? Well before a lot of clients might be even willing to have estate planning conversations, let alone the personal care directive in that part of the power of attorney conversation. When … In an ideal world of rainbows and butterflies, when should financial advisors be beginning to have these conversations with their client?

James Hunter: Right. This is likely not a conversation you’re going to have with a son or daughter of a very good client who’s been referred to you. This, as you say, is a discussion that enters the planning process around the time of powers of attorney being put in place or when you’re getting more serious about the retirement discussion, this is a discussion that really has to take place. And advisors have to strategize about their personal message, how to introduce the topic into the planning discussions and family meetings, because it is tricky to introduce this topic to a client and say, “Eventually, with 40% of Canadians over the age of 65 experience some sort of memory loss, there’s a good chance that could happen to you,” not the most uplifting conversation.

Bruce Sellery: Right.

James Hunter: At the same time, you can show empathy and pragmatism when introducing this topic, but it is essential that you do so.

Bruce Sellery: What would you say you’ve learned from your personal experience about communication strategies? How does an advisor make that statement or ask that question in a compassionate way?

James Hunter: I think the key, not just in our industry, but in society in general, is to de-stigmatize this issue. People don’t like talking about it. I think certain generations consider this deal a sign of weakness or embarrassment and it shouldn’t be. It’s a reality. It’s coming at us, 565,000 Canadians are suffering from some form of dementia, affecting over a million family members. This is something that’s real, that should be talked about, and so it’s just crucial that we address this.

Bruce Sellery: There is no hard and fast rule for when powers of attorney kick in. You write them, you develop them, you all hope you’re never going to need to use them, and then at some point a financial advisor or a client may say, “Now is the time for that baton to be passed.” How do financial advisors … What are the signs that would indicate that that might be something that they need to bring up with the clients or the clients kids?

James Hunter: Firstly, you bring it up before the event happens or the triggering behaviors or whatever the advisor has identified that they want to bring up with a family. You have that discussion well ahead of time with all the family members, the key stakeholders, maybe even someone outside the family, a trusted individual along with a power of attorney to say, eventually we’ll invoke this power of attorney. So, you’ve softened the ground a little bit by having the conversations ahead of time.

Bruce Sellery: The will is … It’s such a critical document. One of the elements that I didn’t fully appreciate was the complexity of updating a will after someone has received a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s. That must be really problematic, because there could be material things that need to change in the will, but if someone has already received that diagnosis, there’s some real legal questions that get raised.

James Hunter: Absolutely. How does one sign off if they have diminished capacity? And that’s why you need good legal experts around you as well, because that’s just something that should be included in the planning process as well. In diminished capacity, what legal rights do you have?

Bruce Sellery: Yeah. The financial plan also might need an update in that sometimes assisted living is required and that could be, I don’t know, 10 grand a month. Those could be the kinds of dollars that would affect the best laid plans of folks who predicted that they could age in place. How do you pivot if that diagnosis does mean a change in what that nest egg needs to deliver?

James Hunter: Well, that’s why retirement planning is so important and has to include the surprises like this. We never expected for my mother to have the additional cost. In fact, we thought my mom might be the caregiver one day. My dad was never prepared for this, but he was financially prepared luckily. And so what could be more important than the care of a spouse, but it’s essential that your plan be safeguarded for this event.

Bruce Sellery: What role do you think financial advisors play in keeping seniors up to date on fraud? And I ask because it is a demographic that is more susceptible, because they’re not up to date on technology. They don’t necessarily have the focusing powers that they did 10 or 20 years before. It’s happened to my mom. She’s done awesome on rejecting the telemarketer phone call and then clicked through on a phishing scam and gave her email address and password to a scammer. So how do financial advisors include that in their discussions so that they’re not being obnoxious about it, but they’re letting their clients know, “Hey, you should be aware that this kind of stuff could affect you financially.”

James Hunter: For sure. And if we all said yes to every cold-caller that placed a call into us, we would in theory have the cleanest ducks on the face of the planet. But the reality is, to your point, 41% of seniors in Canada experience some sort of financial abuse. It’s the number one type of elder abuse. It’s again the conversation with the individual, but more importantly, the family that surrounds them telltale signs of what to look for. Is there a caregiver that suddenly attending meetings with them unnecessarily? Are people cashing checks? Are you reviewing for signs of forgery? Misuse of a power of attorney? Family members saying, “Oh, we’re sharing the assets now.” So these are the types of things that advisors should look for, and if they’re suspicious of anything, they need to be talking to their compliance department about it.

Bruce Sellery: What advice do you have for financial advisors on engaging the next generation, on gen two? And we know there’s a lot of talk about that. How do you engage gen two, so you get their assets so they don’t leave because so many of them leave. And I don’t mean in that way, I mean in service of the parent, in service of the client. What role the kids have and how can a financial advisor increase the probability that those kids will deliver on that role?

James Hunter: For sure. And it is a family effort, but to your point, we’re always coaching advisors about if you’re having a client event, make sure the kids are there so they see the value of bringing to the relationship. That’s obviously important in terms of the transfer of wealth to the next generation, but really the kids have got to be involved and understand the impact of any sort of dementia or Alzheimer’s in the family. What that means to them, how they’re going to have to jump into action, what your role as an advisor is going to be, and a very essential role in terms of simplifying their life and being their partner through what could be a very difficult time for them as kids.

Bruce Sellery: James, thank you for sharing your personal story and for sharing your insight. We really appreciate it.

James Hunter: Great to be here.

Bruce Sellery: James Hunter, head of wealth management at Echelon Wealth Partners. Our conversation was about cognitive decline and the role financial advisors can play in managing it alongside the clients. One last thing before we go, we call it prosperous practice. It’s a tip from a financial advisor on how to do more good work with your clients.

Rona Birenbaum: Hello, my name is Rona Birenbaum. I’m founder of Caring for Clients, a premier fee only financial planning and wealth management firm. And my tip today is about how to possibly keep on top of news and analysis without being overwhelmed by it 24/7. I think the most important thing is for you to decide what you will not pay attention to. Decide in advance what information is relevant to you and your clients. This makes curating content much easier and makes you less vulnerable to distraction. So what is my consumption strategy? Well, firstly, it’s platform agnostic, podcasts, blogs, major newspaper content, newsletters. I listen and read all of them. The content is the key. The platform irrelevant. Secondly, I subscribe very selectively and I regularly unsubscribe for much of what comes to me on a regular basis. We all make subscription mistakes, nip them in the bud, and you’ll be far less overwhelmed.

Rona Birenbaum: My strategy is also very subject driven, tax, estate, investing, behavioral psychology, insurance, practice management and philanthropy. I have bookmarks on my phone that group content accordingly so I can learn and think deeply about a subject rather than jump from subject to subject. I also create my own content. It actually raises the standard of what I consume, because what I consume must add to my knowledge on a subject, not simply echo it. And finally, you must have, and I do have a retention and use strategy, because you can’t keep it all in your head. Save it, share it, use it. Happy learning.

Bruce Sellery: That’s this episode of Prosper, the financial advisor’s podcast from Advisor’s Edge. Our email address is news.advisor@TC.TC. Send us your questions, comments, or ideas, or connect with us online. Twitter is @AdvisorCA, Facebook @AdvisorsEdgeMagazine, LinkedIn is advisor.ca. Don’t forget to click on the subscribe button. You can rate the podcast and even tap out a super quick little review. Is that too much to ask? I hope not. That’ll help other advisors hear about us, which would be good for the world. Thanks for listening. Now go out and prosper.