Never assume you know what a client wants

By Melissa Shin | June 18, 2018 | Last updated on October 27, 2023
3 min read


Emily Rae


Senior financial planning advisor, Assante Capital Management Ltd.



In the business since:


Team’s AUM:

$130 million

Fee model:

Fee-based or commission

Typical clients:

Business owners and retirees

This article is part of the Advisor’s Edge 20 Ways to Be a Better Advisor feature package, published in the June 2018 edition of AE. Click here for more tips and to learn about our 20th anniversary.

Emily Rae has always been good with money. But she didn’t consider becoming an advisor until her husband was debating whether to enter the industry.

“I said to him, ‘Are you crazy? That’s a great job!’,” recalls Rae. “And he said to me, ‘Why don’t you do it, then?’” Rae has now been an advisor for 26 years.

Over that period, she’s learned not to come to client meetings with a preconceived notion of what people need or want. But she doesn’t take what clients say at face value, either.

“Sometimes clients don’t say exactly what they mean,” she says. “Sometimes they’ll say, ‘I want more in rate of return,’ but what they mean is they want more to spend every month. Those are two completely different things.”

An advisor’s job is to clarify people’s needs, she says. “Clients may make a statement, and if you dig deeper you can find out the reason they feel that way and then give them options.”

For instance, a client may believe that if they had a higher-yielding investment, they would be able to spend more, “but they might not be taking into account risk and market fluctuations.” Or, “They may not want to spend money because it’s really important to them to leave a legacy for their children.”

After digging into a client’s motivations and concerns, the right answer may not involve a product at all. “Sometimes the answer is doing nothing,” says Rae. “They may say they want a particular hot, high-risk investment, but if you do deeper probing they might not be comfortable with losing part of their money.” Her process also encompasses retirement, estate, tax, insurance, debt and education planning.

As a past member of the Responsible Investment Association, Rae also receives inquiries about ethical investing. Before making recommendations, she finds out why a person is interested. “Maybe they had a family member pass away from lung cancer, and they don’t want anything to do with Big Tobacco. Or maybe it’s as simple as their career has to do with the environment.”

The next generation

While most of Rae’s clients have been with her for “the better part of 20 years,” she lights up when asked if she works with clients’ children. “Yes, that’s the most wonderful part,” she says. “You get so attached to clients. I know people’s dogs’ names,” she adds, laughing.

To make meetings with those children less intimidating, she first asks about non-financial issues such as travel plans or pets. “We end up talking about the money at some point, but if you can build a relationship with somebody that’s genuine, then they’re happy to come in,” she says.

How does she get young people to see the value of planning for a retirement that’s many decades away?

“I always say, ‘It’s not about how much you save; it’s really about the habit of saving.’” The first time she meets with a young person, she suggests they save a manageable amount per month—say, $25. “The person will usually find they don’t even miss that.” The next time the person comes in, she suggests $50, and so on.

It doesn’t have to be overwhelming or unpleasant, and “it doesn’t have to affect your lifestyle,” says Rae. “Before you know it you’ll be better off than all your contemporaries, because you would have had an early start.”

Melissa Shin headshot

Melissa Shin

Melissa is the editorial director of and leads Newcom Media Inc.’s group of financial publications. She has been with the team since 2011 and been recognized by PMAC and CFA Society Toronto for her reporting. Reach her at You may also call or text 416-847-8038 to provide a confidential tip.