Green figgy bank with calculator

With pandemic uncertainty still present, financial advisors are stressing the importance of managing cash flow and having an emergency fund.

“There’s a different attitude and mindset about clients [now] to be a little more focused on controlling things and having them come out the way they want to,” said Stuart Gray, director of the financial planning centre of expertise at RBC.

As a result, RBC advisors and planners are having more conversations with clients about both their current and future cash flow situations to minimize uncertainty, Gray said. Advisors are also emphasizing to clients the importance of having an emergency fund “available to handle those short-term needs,” he said.

Jeff Bartja, managing director with Scotia Global Asset Management, has seen a similar trend.

“The pieces that I see as unique this year [of the pandemic] is certainly, with every ongoing month of the pandemic, the impact on emergency funds and savings rates get a little deeper for customers,” Bartja said. “A lot of people were able to manage through the first three months with savings,” but two years into the pandemic, there continues to be “volatility in income levels.”

Scotia advisors are noticing clients who didn’t have an emergency fund bring up the concept in meetings as they’ve “certainly seen the benefit of it,” Bartja said, adding that many who had an emergency fund have seen it deplete over the course of the pandemic.

The cash for the emergency fund can come from “very conservative” or secure investments such as cashable GICs, Gray said. Clients for whom leverage is appropriate could explore getting a line of credit.

Clients are also anxious about whether they’ll meet their retirement goals, Bartja observed. He said they’re asking questions such as, “What is the savings rate I need to get to where I want to be?”

Bartja said that 45% of those polled in Scotia Global Asset Management’s January investor sentiment survey said the pandemic has impacted their retirement plans.

“Nearly half of our customers are saying that the pandemic has impacted their retirement plan based on savings rate, cash flow, unplanned expenditures or unplanned missing income,” he said. “That’s a big population that needs to then reset and say, ‘It impacted my retirement plan. What do I need to do now? What savings rate do I need? What plan do I need for the long term?’”

Other concerns abound now, too. A January RBC poll found that inflation is a top three concern for Canadians as it relates to their retirement compared to previous years, acting as a “key savings barrier” for 29% of the 2,000 people polled.

Sam Febbraro, executive vice-president with Investment Planning Counsel, agreed that inflation, along with market volatility and health issues, are top of mind for clients. As a result, financial advisors need to consider “all income sources,” including government benefits, a small business when applicable, and employment earnings.

Aside from helping clients navigate these challenges, Febbraro noted that IPC advisors are doing a lot more intergenerational planning work as Canada’s population ages.

He said advisors are hearing from middle-aged clients who are worried about being able to care for both their children and their parents.

“We’re finding that a number of advisors can deliver financial planning by having all three generations together at once,” he said. “They can bring in an accountant, a lawyer and discuss the family requirements in intergenerational planning.”

Febbraro said advisors should approach this planning by setting goals, strategizing how to get there, figuring out how to source the client’s retirement income, and having a family meeting with an advisor to understand everyone’s needs and goals.

In today’s environment, he said income can come from a blend of dividend-paying equities, growth stocks and traditional fixed income combined with higher-yield strategies.