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It’s no secret that working with a professional financial planner is beneficial to consumers. Plenty of research suggests financial planning advice provides tangible psychological and financial wellness benefits — a message the industry repeatedly communicates to Canadians. So, why aren’t more Canadians seeking advice that could give them a stronger financial future?

That was the question at the heart of a study recently released by the FP Canada Research Foundation and the Smith School of Business at Queen’s University: Identifying and Removing Psychological Barriers To Seeking Financial Advice, authored by Dr. Lynnette Purda and Dr. Laurence Ashworth.

Addressing these barriers is important, because we know that many Canadians are struggling financially. According to FP Canada’s 2021 Financial Stress Index, money is the top source of anxiety for Canadians, ahead of health, work and relationships. However, the index revealed that Canadians who work with a professional financial planner are far less likely to cite money as their top concern.

So, what factors are preventing Canadians from getting professional financial planning advice?

One of the main psychological barriers, according to Purda and Ashworth, is consumer confusion about what financial planning is and who is qualified to provide it. Consumers were generally ill-informed about the various financial professionals they interacted with and the services financial planners provided.

Another psychological barrier is a negative attitude toward working with a financial planner. For example, the research found that consumers who viewed financial planners as untrustworthy or who considered the perceived costs of working with a planner as greater than the benefits were unlikely to engage a financial planner.

The third and final barrier relates to consumers’ confidence in their ability to work with a financial professional — something the researchers termed “financial advice seeking self-efficacy” or FASSE. FASSE includes knowing where to seek financial help, being able to identify a professional’s expertise, familiarity with the products and services available, and confidence in receiving good value for fees paid.

With these barriers in mind, what can financial planners do to help?

The good news is drastic changes may not be necessary. The research found that even relatively simple changes — mainly involving the information relayed to Canadians about financial professionals and their services — could drive more consumers to seek financial advice.

For example, the research showed that a clear value proposition can go a long way in building trust and confidence. It’s critical for financial planners to clearly outline their services and how they’ll address the client’s needs and priorities. Instead of speaking in broad terms, it’s necessary to be specific about what’s involved with financial planning, and the elements of a financial plan. By helping Canadians understand exactly what to expect, they become more confident in their ability to work with a planner.

Similarly, when explaining qualifications, the key is being specific. Rather than general discussions of a professional’s experience, consumers benefit from having detailed descriptions of credentials, the requirements to obtain them, and the relevant professional and ethical obligations to clients. It’s also important to ensure Canadians understand and appreciate the benefits they’re receiving relative to the fees charged.

Providing this kind of clarity reduces consumers’ confusion, positively impacts their attitude toward working with financial planners and advisors, and improves their FASSE.

The most encouraging aspect of these research findings is that small changes have the potential to make a big difference. This research confirms that a consumer who has both the right information and the necessary confidence is more likely to engage a financial planner.

So, it’s time to consider how we can better inform Canadians and help them feel confident in seeking advice.

We all need to do our part. Given what we know about the benefits of financial planning, we can’t afford barriers standing between Canadians and the professional advice they need to support their long-term financial wellness.

Tashia Batstone is president and CEO of FP Canada.