Angela Mercier has followed a diverse career path toward her position as principal owner at Mercier Mediation and Financial Services in Dartmouth, N.S.
Mercier, who holds the qualified mediator (Q.Med) and certified divorce financial analyst (CDFA) designations and also is vice president of the Association of Collaborative Family Law Professionals of Nova Scotia, has a resumé that includes several positions in both the automotive industry and the financial services sector. Her practice reflects both her formal training and her life experience, offering two distinct services: mediation for divorcing couples, and financial planning and advice.
After graduating from the University of Saskatchewan with a bachelor of arts degree in psychology, Mercier worked for 15 years in her family’s automotive dealership in Halifax. During that time, she held 12 positions, including general manager – a job that demanded keen skills in negotiating and settling disputes.
“I learned mediation skills in the dealership,” Mercier says. “Every department is a separate business. The repair shop is not giving sales a deal. You are forever mediating.”
Mercier underwent a divorce and then switched careers, becoming a mortgage broker. She later shifted gears again, obtaining her mutual fund and insurance licences, and began working as a financial advisor with Investors Group Inc. In that position, she met many women who were undergoing a divorce; Mercier found that most of these women lacked crucial financial advice regarding this life process.
“They didn’t understand the financial implications of what they were signing when they were divorcing,” Mercier says.
At the time, Mercier recalled that when she was going through her divorce, her lawyer never suggested Mercier seek the services of a financial advisor. In hindsight, she realized that this was a critical omission – and an opportunity for her current business.
Mercier then obtained her CDFA designation. “I really wanted to help clients who are going through a divorce,” she says.
Mercier, a newly independent advisor and armed with her CDFA, began contacting lawyers in an effort to build her client base. Although the lawyers initially thought Mercier’s services would be of interest to their wealthier clients, she found that those wealthy clients already had someone providing them with financial advice and oversight. Less affluent clients often were the ones who lacked financial advice.
During Mercier’s professional training, she realized that there are two fundamental issues that couples fight about: children and money. That understanding led her to become a Q.Med. Mercier now also contacts advisors to make them aware of the need to provide assistance to divorcing clients. Mercier explains to those advisors that her mediation services can help the other advisors retain clients after a divorce.
“I speak to financial advisors all the time, and they just don’t get it,” Mercier says. “Half of their books of business could be going [out the door due to] a divorce.”
For many people, a divorce not only ends the marriage, but also ends the relationship with their advisor.
“Fifty per cent of people will leave their advisor during this time,” Mercier says. Advisors who offer support during this period, she adds, “have a stronger ability to retain clients.”
Advisors who refer clients to Mercier for her Q.Med expertise are invited to be part of the mediation process. Mercier requests copies of all financial documentation and asks advisors to join in at the end of the mediation to discuss financial issues, including RRSPs and Canada Pension Plan distribution. Ironically, though, Mercier gets more referrals for her mediation business from psychologists than from advisors. (For reasons of ethics and potential conflict of interest, Mercier cannot mediate for her financial advisory clients.)
On the financial advisory side of Mercier’s business, she reaches potential clients through her website (mercierservices.ca) and her blog, through which she offers information and insight. There is, for example, a financial checklist for clients undergoing a divorce, as well as an explanation that the word “budget” – like the word “diet” – should be avoided.
Much of Mercier’s financial advice focuses on cash flow. New clients are asked to complete a cash-flow analysis that involves abstaining from credit (including credit cards and lines of credit) for a set period, usually six to eight weeks. As a result, clients can see exactly how much money they take home. They also come to realize how much money they actually spend, including often unnoticed costs such as bank fees.
In many cases, the cash-flow demonstration is made for the entire family. If there are children over 10 years of age, Mercier often will invite them to the meeting at which the results of the exercise are discussed.
Mercier’s target client base is couples over 35 years of age who are making more than $100,000 a year. “They are open to new ideas,” she notes. “If they approach me, they want to make a change.”
Mercier also has older clients, many of whom are divorcing after 15 or 18 years of marriage. “One of the stressors is money,” she says.
Clients are willing to pay for Mercier’s expertise. She charges potential clients $100 for an initial meeting, which can last up to 90 minutes. “My time is valuable,” she says. “I thought that [charge] would make my business get smaller. [However], I haven’t had anybody say ‘no’ to the fee.”
Mercier also advertises on Google and Facebook to promote her services and her approach to financial management.
To retain clients, Mercier relies on face-to-face connections, not an email list or a monthly newsletter. “I keep in regular contact with my customers by meeting with them at least twice a year,” she says.
Mercier, who has remarried, is an active mother of three grown daughters and an 11-year-old son. She likes to unwind by spending time with her family – and a good book. She also enjoys getting out of the office for a run or a hike.
Chances are she rarely runs the same route twice in a row.
FIND A PARTNER
Angela Mercier, principal owner of Mercier Mediation and Financial Services in Halifax, entered the financial advisory business with a degree in psychology and 15 years of experience in the automotive business. Her diverse career has taught her many lessons about success. She offers the following tips:
– Partner with a senior advisor. The average age of financial advisors in Canada is 54. That presents young advisors with opportunities to learn from their elders and to grow their business. “Ask [older advisors] what their succession plan is and if they have a process,” Mercier says.
– Be transparent about costs. Explain your fee structure to your clients, Mercier says. Show how much they are paying – and for what – so there are no misunderstandings.
– Get organized. Prepare for a mountain of paper. We may live in a digital world, but the financial services profession is mired in paperwork. Mercier cautions that the myriad forms and questionnaires are time-consuming, but mandatory. Says Mercier: “Our hands are tied.”