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Top five traits of successful advisors

Professional designations are important, but the best advisors reach out proactively and plan for longevity


Date: January 4, 2016

The financial media is full of stories advising Canadians on the latest and greatest investment products and strategies. What investors hear about less often is the importance of identifying and hiring the right financial advisor for them, someone who can quarterback investments today and can create a winning retirement game plan for their future.

But what sets a great advisor apart from the rest?

As it turns out, the attributes of great advisors go beyond a long series of professional designations behind their name to include a set of skills that are hard to measure with graphs or spreadsheets.

Perhaps most importantly, a great advisor rises to the occasion when advice is needed the most, such as when markets plunge and investors are thinking of heading for the exits, says Rocco Taglioni, senior vice-president, distribution and marketing, individual insurance and wealth at Sun Life Financial Canada.

“During times of heightened market volatility or unrest, a great advisor proactively contacts clients to make sure they’re okay, discusses any concerns they may have, reminds them that markets fluctuate, advises them not to react too emotionally, and reconfirms that sticking with the long-term plan is key,” he says. “An average advisor reacts to client calls or concerns.”

Another trait displayed by top-drawer advisors is a holistic approach to financial planning, rather than a product-based one, says Mr. Taglioni. “A great advisor looks out for the interests of the clients first,” he says. “The best advisors concern themselves with the overall financial well-being of their clients, not just investment performance. They present solutions and products that meet clients’ needs, work towards achieving their goals, and help meet the objectives of their plans.”

Advisors also need to be cognizant of how demographic shifts can affect their role, notes Mr. Taglioni. Baby boomers represent the largest, richest and longest-lived generation ever to enter retirement and they are changing retirement as we know it, he says. As a result, the financial services industry needs to evolve as well.

“We’re now moving away from the simple notion of financial planning and retirement planning to more longevity planning,” he says. “People are starting to realize it’s quite likely they’re going to live longer than their parents – perhaps much longer. The best advisors will be able to help clients answer the question, ‘How do you plan to help me live better, longer?’”

While intangible skills such as the ability to listen to clients and think outside of the financial-product box are all critical traits necessary for a top advisor, designations can also provide a measuring stick for clients, says Sterling Rempel, founder and principal advisor of Future Values Estate & Financial Planning in Calgary.

“Anybody can call themselves a financial planner because it is not a regulated term, so [clients should ask], ‘Do they have the bona fides to call themselves a financial advisor?’” he says. A minimum starting point for Mr. Rempel is the Certified Financial Planner (CFP) designation for advisors.

“In insurance I would look to Chartered Life Underwriters (CLU), in other areas I would look to the Trust and Estate Practitioner (TEP) designation.

The Calgary-based advisor also says that prospective clients should understand the type of financial plans that have been created for current clients of the advisor.

“Can they show you samples of a comprehensive financial plan that they put together? Is it following the six broad areas of financial planning?”

According to Mr. Rempel, the six key components of financial planning are: financial management (cash flow and budgeting), risk management (such as insurance), investment management, retirement income projections, tax considerations and estate planning.

Finally, compensation needs to be front and centre, says Mr. Rempel. “Can the advisor provide them services in a fashion that they want and will they garner the value from that?”

Rocco Taglioni’s top five traits of successful advisors:

1. Develop long-term relationships with clients and are there to help them plan for each stage of their lives.

2. Look at clients' needs from every angle and recommend a strategy that will allow them to not only accumulate wealth, but also protect their savings and plan for their long-term health and financial well-being.

3. Utilize a broad suite of solutions, including life insurance, health insurance and wealth products.

4. Keep skills fresh by staying on top of industry trends, learning about new solutions and products and developing new strategies to meet clients’ financial, retirement and longevity planning needs.

5. Obtain designations such as Certified Financial Planner (CFP), Chartered Financial Consultant (CH.F.C.), Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA), Registered Financial Planner (RFP), Chartered Life Underwriter (CLU), Certified Health Insurance Specialist (CHS), Chartered Strategic Wealth Professional (CSWP), and any of the accounting designations: Certified Management Accountant (CMA), Chartered Accountant (CA), and Certified General Accountant (CGA).

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