In this article, Wayne G. Miller discusses how barriers are standing in the way of Canadians’ financial planning and retirement readiness.

Over the years, I’ve heard the same story more times than I’d like:

An advisor sits down with a retirement-aged client for the first time, only to find that he/she is still working, either full- or part-time. When asked why, the client responds “because I don’t have enough money to retire.” Fast forward: the advisor has in-depth conversations to really get to know the client and develop a plan, only to discover that the client could have retired already. What an unfortunate situation! Imagine, working longer than you need to, simply because you didn’t know you could stop.

Here’s an even more unfortunate discovery: most Canadians are planning to work past age 65 because they need to “earn enough money,” according to the 2016 Retirement Now Special Report. Perhaps they simply think they need to keep working – and don’t know any better. But, the same study shows that those who work with an advisor are more satisfied with their retirement savings (compared with those who don’t) and are probably more likely to retire on time.

70% of Canadians are planning to work past age 65 – the traditional age of retirement – in order to earn enough money to live well in retirement.

Source: 2016 Retirement Now Special Report.

What’s happening? Why are these unfortunate souls working longer than they need to? In my mind, there’s one main reason: not enough people are seeking professional advice from a trusted advisor. We see proof of this in many ways:

  • There’s a declining use of financial advisors.1
  • Insurance ownership is at its lowest level in 30 years.
  • Only 7% of Canadians have a formal written financial plan.2
  • Roughly one-quarter of households aren’t on track to generate enough retirement income to maintain their standard of living when they retire.3

So, what’s causing people to avoid, or not seek out the advice from an advisor? There are lots of theories out there, but I believe the biggest cause is a result of 2 barriers standing in the way:

  1. A lack of understanding of what advisors can do – the value of their advice
  2. A lack of trust in financial advisors

Knowledge gap

Barrier #1: There’s a disconnect between how advisors are perceived by the public, what they do and the value of advice.

How are you different than…?

The financial services industry is filled with different types of “advisors,” each with varying levels of education and offerings. We have insurance advisors, investment advisors, financial advisors, wealth advisors, estate planning advisors, financial planners. These titles don’t tell the average client anything and it’s causing confusion.

Most consumers, including those who are advised clients, are unaware of specifics such as the educational and licensing requirements required to sell different financial products.

Source: Mintel Group Limited “Consumers and Financial Advice” 2016.

What it comes down to is this: there’s a lack of understanding of the breadth and depth a financial advisor can provide.

Why does this misunderstanding matter? Clients don’t know to choose an advisor who can provide well-rounded advice, so they don’t experience the benefits of holistic planning and unbiased advice. That’s a miss for you and for the uninformed client. Because, as Vanguard explains in its Advisor’s Alpha theory, advisors and clients alike can succeed through a combination of investment management, financial planning and behavioural coaching – meaning full-service value, not just product sales.

What can you do for your clients?

Many Canadians who would benefit from the advice from an advisor never take advantage because they don’t understand what it involves. A lack of understanding equates to a lack of appreciation for the value of advice and is therefore limiting sales of products like life insurance. People won’t buy what they don’t understand or believe in.

Top reasons for not using an advisor
1. I don’t think I have enough assets
2. I prefer to manage investments myself
3. I don’t trust financial advisors
4. I can get the same advice from other sources
Source: Mintel Group Limited “Consumers and Financial Advice” 2016.

Without a strong understanding of risk management or diversification, how can one really appreciate the benefits an advisor provides? No wonder advice is generally seen as an expense — and one many people feel they can avoid.

We also know one of the main reasons consumers don’t use an advisor is they think they don’t have “enough assets.”4 When this is true, we don’t want to encourage wasting anyone’s time. But for most Canadians, feeling they don’t have enough money is part of the inertia that keeps them from taking the first step in reaching out to an advisor.

But, a little knowledge goes a long way. According to LIMRA:5

  • The more clients know, the more products they’ll buy.
  • The more clients know about retirement, the more they’ll save for it.

If you can get past the barrier of understanding to educate clients and prove the value of your advice, everyone will be better off.


Barrier #2: A lack of trust is preventing Canadians from professional retirement planning advice.

Why the distrust?
Studies show that advisors are close to the bottom of the list of professionals consumers trust.6 What’s causing this mistrust?

  • Is the previous generation of sales-only advisors responsible?
  • Is it the constant turnover of advisors and bank planners with a resulting inability to develop a long-term relationship and deliver advice for life?
  • Is it because consumers are more discerning and skeptical?
  • Do people think they have better and more objective options because of online or robo advice?

Whatever the reason, people just don’t seem to trust advisors. In fact, only one-quarter of advised clients feel advisors can be trusted to act in their best interests, and about one in 10 non-users feel that way.7

Authentic, personal trust

The key to overcoming the trust barrier is to establish personal trust with your clients and prospects. Personal trust is all about putting your clients’ needs over your own. It starts by not talking about yourself (it’s not about you!) and asking questions (a lot of them!) – which can ultimately put you in a position of trusted advice.

Let me tell you a story about the result of failing to ask questions. A few months ago, I went to buy a new car. At the dealership, a salesperson immediately went into a sales pitch about a specific car. He didn’t ask me a single question. Not “Do you have any children?” “What are your driving habits?” “Are you looking for something practical or luxury?” or “Are you buying for yourself?” He jumped right into a solution – a sale. But, how could he make a recommendation without knowing anything about me? The same principle applies to insurance and wealth solutions. You cannot make a product or investment recommendation without first asking questions – and truly listening to the answers. Needless to say, I didn’t buy a car that day.

According to LIMRA,8 trust is the deciding factor for clients when engaging someone for financial advice. The report goes on to say that clients want financial professionals “whose motivations align with theirs, who will act in their best interests, and who are genuinely interested in their well-being.” That sounds exactly like personal trust to me.

Providing trusted advice is the unspoken “X factor” in the financial world. Your trust, integrity, and client-approach – in other words “how” you run your business – are vital to successful client-advisor relationships.

Those who use a financial professional are more confident in their financial future.Source: PMG Intelligence “Canadians and Financial Planning,” 2016.

Sure, robo advice is fast becoming a threat to traditional advice channels. But, as a study by Ipsos points out, “the greatest barrier to use a robo advisor is the need for human contact. Investors of all ages want to communicate with a person. Even clients who want online options value human contact and face time with advisors.”9

If a potential client thinks you’re going to push a product, it’s likely because they:

  • aren’t aware of the process you’ll take them through, or
  • had a previous, negative experience with a poor advisor.

But, going through the discovery and planning process with an advisor gives clients peace of mind knowing they’re doing the right thing. If you don’t have a process, that’s concerning. If you do, how can you share this before you start? In my experience, any client who sits down with a good advisor swears by the advice they receive.


It’s not only advisors who are being harmed by knowledge and trust barriers; it’s affecting Canadians and their retirement readiness. So, how can well-intentioned financial professionals combat negative public perception? How do we start turning the tide of these barriers and knowledge gaps? Allow me to share some ideas:

  • If you’re a “specialist,” ensure your clients know this and who they can speak to – your centres of influence – about the things you don’t do.
  • Explain the breadth and depth of service you provide, including the process by which you deliver it.
  • Educate clients on risk management and diversification. A lack of literacy equates to a lack of appreciation of products and services.
  • Build personal trust; provide an authentic client approach.

Advisors, and the financial services industry in general, need to increase Canadians’ understanding of the value of advice and regain their trust and confidence. It’s the only way we can continue to make an impact in helping current and future retirees secure their financial future.

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1 Ipsos “Canadians and Financial Advice,” 2016.

2 Previous 2 bullets from: LIMRA, “Canadians at Financial Risk,” 2013.

3 McKinsey & Company “Are Canadians Ready for Retirement?” April 2012.

4 Mintel Group Limited “Consumers and Financial Advice,” 2016.

5 LIMRA “The Future of Advice,” 2015.

6 Ipsos “Canada’s Most and Least Trusted Professions,” September 2014.

7 Mintel Group Limited “Consumers and Financial Advice,” 2016.

8 LIMRA “Pre-Retirees: Advice on Their Own Terms,” 2015.

9 Ipsos “Canadians and Financial Advice,” 2016.

Wayne Miller is an Associate Vice-President, Strategic Business Development, Individual Insurance and Wealth, Sun Life Financial.

Over the course of Wayne’s almost 30 years at Sun Life Financial, his respect for advisors has only grown. As the holder of Associate designations in both the Society of Actuaries and Canadian Institute of Actuaries, he spent the first 10 years of his career in product development, with the balance being in Marketing and Distribution. In his current role as Associate Vice-President, Strategic Business Development, Wayne oversees a team of thought leaders that focuses on professional development, practice management, and market development. Wayne holds an Honours BA in Mathematics, Actuarial Science from the University of Waterloo. He has many industry accolades, including his associateships in the Society of Actuaries and the Canadian Institute of Actuaries; his membership in Advocis, GAMA and CALU; as a conference speaker at events sponsored by the CIA, CLHIA, CALU, CAILBA and Advocis; and through his published articles in Advocis’ Forum magazine.

Wayne is leading the advice revolution. He’s a founding member and past Chair of CLHIA’s Task Force on Sales Illustrations, which mandated increased disclosure and sensitivity analysis for life insurance sales illustrations. He developed the industry’s first disclosure booklet on participating life insurance; co-authored a white paper on life insurance as an asset class; and authored many published articles on topics ranging from demutualization, industry trends, product mechanics and suitability.