In 2003, Debbie Hartzman, a financial advisor with Professional Investments Inc. in Kingston, Ont., heard some of her peers scoff at a notice offering a new course and designation for divorce planning.

“But, I thought, ‘This makes a lot of sense’,” Hartzman says. “There’s no bigger disruption in life than divorce.”

That revelation would have a profound effect on Hartzman’s career. Today, divorce planning is a significant component of her business, and she played an important role in introducing the certified divorce financial analyst (CDFA) designation to Canada

When Hartzman first heard about the new designation, she contacted the U.S.-based firm that was offering the course; she enrolled and passed. But no sooner had she had business cards printed with her new designation, she received an email telling her to cease and desist from using the accreditation because the company offering it had gone bankrupt.

A couple of weeks after that, the Durham, N.C.-based Institute of Divorce Financial Analysts contacted Hartzman, asking her to help write its CDFA course for advisors in Canada.

Hartzman rewrote sections for Ontario, British Columbia and Alberta and taught in some of these jurisdictions. She recently reviewed and updated some of the self-study modules.

Hartzman got the word out about CDFAs then and still actively promotes the designation. Providing financial advice related to the divorce process now is recognized in Canada as an area of specialization.

Hartzman’s diverse business background has helped her to hone the skills necessary to serve a diverse roster of clients.

For 20 years before Hartzman became an advisor, she and her husband, Mike, ran a variety of businesses – including a real estate development company and a window-covering manufacturing plant – in Kingston. Hartzman herself ran a cooking school and catering business, specializing in Thai food. At the time, becoming an advisor was not on the menu.

But in the early 1990s, the recession took the life out of many of the enterprises the couple ran and they decided to sell their businesses. Mike became a real estate agent and Debbie continued to dabble in the catering business while she weighed her options.

At the time, Hartzman was a recruiter’s dream: a woman with a strong knowledge of various types of businesses looking for a new opportunity. She was called by employers such as Bank of Montreal and Sun Life Financial Inc., which were interested in hiring her. But it was a meeting with Ossie Fisher, founder and then president of Professional Investments, that brought her next career into focus.

Hartzman was still operating her catering business in December 1995 when she met with Fisher, who had asked her to come to his office to discuss the possibility of providing food services at company holiday parties.

Hartzman had met Fisher a few years prior, when he had purchased some property from the Hartzmans’ real estate development firm. Fisher mentioned to Hartzman at that time that she should get into the financial advisory business. “I had no clue what his business was about,” she says.

Having worked in various fields, Hartzman soon realized that she could make a big difference by working in financial services.

“From my experience in business, I always found that there was nobody who drove the bus,” Hartzman says. “There was a lawyer and an accountant, but there was nobody who would pull it all together and co-ordinate it. So, I decided that if I was going to come into the [financial advice] business, that was the seat I was going to occupy. I would be the quarterback for the client, get everything organized and be the conduit for information and education.”

Hartzman then began working as an advisor and earning her designations, starting with certified financial planner and chartered life underwriter. She also has the trust and estate practitioner and registered retirement consultant designations.

She puts her CDFA to use discriminately, taking on a client only if she can have a positive impact on the financial end of the divorce process. Hartzman will not get involved if couples are arguing about matters such as who will get the couch and who will take the cars.

“I can’t add any value to that,” she says. “There is nothing to be determined and there’s no planning to be done [in such cases]. Where I get involved is when you have pensions and RRSPs, cottages or a home in Florida. Where you have multiple assets and it has to be determined whose property it is, what the value is and what makes the best sense financially for the client in terms of settlements. That’s more complicated because not all assets are equal.”

Hartzman’s divorcing clients want to know more than what they will have left at the end of the day. They also want to know if they will be financially secure – or what they need to be financially secure – when coming out of the marriage.

Hartzman, who also is an accredited mediator, offers a trademarked holistic planning program called Wise Women and Wealth that deals with everything from setting goals and work/life balance to a scorecard to help women see how far they have progressed. The objective, Hartzman says, is a balanced portfolio that will help her clients achieve their goals, both emotionally and financially.

“The women absolutely love it,” she says. “They feel empowered and educated. They feel they’re making decisions on a good basis.”

Hartzman is heartened by the new transparency laws coming into effect under the second phase of the client relationship model (CRM2). She says the new regime will help advisors become more professional.

“I believe I create value for my clients, and they’re happy to pay me a 1% fee,”she says. “Now, would they be happy to cut me a cheque? Probably not, but they are happy to have it sectioned out of their investments.”

Hartzman’s holistic approach is helping her to acquire new clients who need the security of knowing how long their investments will last while saving them money on taxes.

She gives an example of a woman who previously had portfolios with three advisors, worth a total of $1 million. Unlike the other advisors, Hartzman says, she could answer the woman’s questions of how much income she could create and how long it would last. Hartzman also restructured that client’s assets and saved her $3,000 in income taxes.

“If you can demonstrate to someone what their immediate savings are, then they are happy to pay you 1%,” she says.

Working for a privately owned company allows Hartzman to work under both a fee- and a commission-based structure. She uses whichever model works best for each client.

A native of Kingston, Hartzman has no desire to move to a bigger city, saying her location hasn’t been a concern for some time.

“I have clients all along the [Highway] 401 corridor,” she says. “Later this week, I’m going to see clients in British Columbia. I also have Facetime and email, so where I’m physically located doesn’t matter because I can serve my clients [from] anywhere.”

Hartzman has brought in a junior advisor and now is moving over some of her clients to him. Still, she has no intention of leaving the business.

“I love what I do.” she says. “I consider myself to be extremely fortunate to be able to work in this industry and help people.”

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