Advisor barters services to increase access to advice

By Heather Li | September 19, 2011 | Last updated on September 19, 2011
3 min read

When Shannon Simmons graduated from university, she landed a high-paying associate gig with the Toronto office of Phillips, Hager & North (now owned by RBC). It was the ideal job for someone who loved financial planning and craved financial security. But in November 2010, she quit to start the Barter Babes Project, a year-long challenge to give up her income and swap financial advice for goods and services from other young women.

“There’s a huge barrier to accessing one-on-one financial advice,” says Simmons, 26. “Either people don’t meet the minimum funds or are so overwhelmed by the information out there that they don’t do anything about it. Swapping gives an opportunity for people who can’t afford financial planning in the conventional sense.” This process also shows skeptics the real value in seeking help from professionals. Simmons’ clients, whom she calls Barter Babes, sign statements stating they understand she’s providing independent advice only, in exchange for a good or service.

Simmons decided to start with women because research shows females are more worried about money and their futures than men. Her trade-off? There needed to be value in the goods she got to make it worthwhile. Simmons posts a “Wish List” on so people know exactly what she needs. She saved up enough money to pay her rent and all fixed costs for a year, but when it comes to eating, getting around and a social life, she only has $35 a week to blow.

“At first, a lot of the bartering was homemade food, groceries and transportation,” she says. “Now it’s morphed into a chance for people to show off what they do for a living and what’s exciting for them to offer — to show that you’re worth more than what’s in your bank account.” For instance, in one swap she received a matching hat, mitts and scarf that took four weeks to make. It didn’t cost as much as the unused Nintendo Wii Fitness she received, but Simmons saw great value in the effort put into the homemade accessories.

In exchange, Simmons provides one- to two-hour sessions based on documents clients fill in with their cash flow, net worth, and short- and long-term goals. She goes through why someone should put money in a TFSA, and how one mutual fund will help a certain goal more than another. After the session, she sends clients a summary of recommendations and a cash flow management plan.

“People are really, really pumped to get financial advice,” she says — so much so that she’s booked solid for the next few months. “Most feel like they’re not offering enough to swap,” she adds. One Barter Babe just wanted to pay her. Simmons, who normally advises asking for what you want, told the client to pay what she could and says, “I was pleasantly surprised with [the amount].”

She’s learned clients value the service because she explains the rationale behind each recommendation. “Make sure the person knows why you choose something. It’s big to have a client leave and say, ‘I understand completely why my advisor told me to do this and I’m really confident with her decision.’ ”

The project ends in November, and Simmons is doubtful she’ll carry on with bartering, although she’s considering moving into a pay-what-you-can model. Regardless, she loves contributing to her industry this way. “People are excited about financial planners,” she says. “I feel really proud of that.”

Heather Li