Seniors already control more private wealth than any other demographic group in Canada, and that trend will increase dramatically as boomers enter their inheritance years. However, older Canadians also tend to be late adopters when it comes to technology.
But that gap is narrowing. For example, more seniors have embraced tablets over the past several years than any other demographic group in Canada, according to a 2015 Media Technology Monitor (MTM) study. So, financial advisors cannot rely on a one-size-fits-all approach to technology in reaching this important client group.
“You can’t make any assumptions about how tech-savvy this demographic is,” says Melanie Hall-Szyszkiewicz, an advisor with Investors Group Inc. in Kelowna, B.C. Only about half of Hall-Szyszkiewicz’s clients are over 65 but they account for about 80% of her book’s value, she says.
Although some are almost millennial-like in their approach to technology – owning several devices and feeling comfortable with the online universe – others are near the bottom of the learning curve.
Hall-Szyszkiewicz has helped her mother, a reluctant late adopter of computers, reap some of the benefits technology offers seniors.
Skype and FaceTime, for example, enable seniors with mobility issues to meet with professionals online. These connections simply were not possible a decade ago, according to Jennifer Cairns, CEO of eGurus Technology Tutors Inc. in Vancouver. Cairns tutors seniors on technology matters, helping people over age 55 become more comfortable with technology while also staying safe.
Although technology has become more user-friendly, she says, the sheer number of devices and applications available today can be confusing to those whose formal learning years occurred decades before the digital age. Yet using technology in areas such as health and finance can improve the lives of older Canadians, she says: “They see value in being able to watch and track their investments.”
Here are some ways you can use technology to connect to seniors:
– Learn their preferences. Hall- Szyszkiewicz asks all of her clients which devices and technologies they feel most comfortable using and also explains the best ways to communicate with her. For example, she warns them that calling her land line is probably the least efficient way of contacting her. Most of her older clients now email or text her when they need to hear back quickly.
– Mind your manners. Although email and texting are less formal than a written letter, you still must be professional, particularly when dealing with the etiquette-sensitive older generation, says Karen Henderson, independent planning specialist with Long Term Care Planning Network in Toronto. All virtual communication should be well-written and concise, as older Canadians tend to distrust a casual disregard for proper form, she says. “Don’t make strong controversial statements,” she says.
– Advocate safe surfing. Glen Rankin, advisor with Rankin Financial Planning Ltd. (affiliated with Assante Wealth Management Ltd.) in Truro, N.S., encourages his clients to use Assante’s secure portal to communicate with him and track their investments. He says older clients are particularly sensitive to the possibility of scams and the security of the portal can help eliminate that concern. Cairns adds that offering information on password safety can also help cut that risk for clients.
– Avoid information overload. It’s important to remember that most older clients haven’t been in school for several decades and may be dealing with vision, hearing and memory issues, Cairns says. Technology has its own jargon, and can make some clients feel as if they’re learning a new language. After walking inexperienced clients through a digital task, provide notes as a reference, says Cairns: “It needs to be reinforced.”
– Compile a list of community resources. Inform your clients about any seniors’ groups, libraries and other community organizations that offer technology training. You can go one step further and provide lists of reliable services and apps that might help older clients improve their day-to-day lives. For example, those that assist with shopping issues such as grocery delivery, as well as travel, health and home security issues might be helpful.
– Be patient. Léony deGraaf Hastings, advisor and elder planning counsellor with deGraaf Financial Strategies in Burlington, Ont., says it’s natural for older Canadians to fear the unknown.
To help them overcome these fears, she says, patiently revisit the benefits that technology can bring to their lives.
“Once they discover what technology can do for them or the information available at their fingertips,”deGraaf Hastings says, “they begin to warm up to it.”
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