Senior people walking on the beach

Seniors are a rapidly growing demographic in Canada who will need tailored financial advisory services.

According to Statistics Canada, the number of seniors is expected to rise rapidly until 2031, by which time all of the baby boomers will have reached 65 years of age. By 2036, seniors could represent 23%-25% of the population. Financial advisors should adapt their practices to the evolving needs of this group.

The term “senior” often invokes discussions of cognitive decline and dementia, mobility challenges and decreased vision and hearing, but seniors are not a homogeneous group, says Dave Lee, senior wealth advisor with ScotiaMcLeod Inc., in White Rock, B.C.

“These [health issues] are all important, but they progress at different speeds and in different ways for different people,” Lee says. “A lot of seniors are actually exceedingly sharp and sophisticated, and don’t show any of those signs of decline.”

That said, there are some universal steps to take when serving this demographic. Most important, ensure you’re communicating with seniors in a manner in which they want to communicate.

“You need to book sufficient time with clients who are seniors – not just to discuss financial matters, but also to discuss their life, whether it’s travel, children or family,” Lee says. “[These clients] need to feel like they’re building a relationship with someone and want the comfort of knowing that they’re more than just a number.”

Clients should feel throughout the meeting that they’re being valued and respected.

During meetings, you must be patient to ensure your senior clients are truly following the information provided. For example, present the same information in various ways to ensure retention, Lee says. Don’t assume senior clients will immediately understand and remember advice, especially if it’s being covered in a short time.

Another way to meet elderly clients’ needs is to consistently provide synchronous communication – a type of communication that happens in real time, such as face-to-face. Many seniors are tech-savvy. But they’re not like younger generations, who prefer asynchronous communications, such as text messaging and email, which allow both parties to reply at their own pace, says Darren Coleman, senior vice president, private client group, and portfolio manager with Coleman Wealth, a division of Raymond James Ltd., in Toronto.

While synchronous communication doesn’t always have to be visual – telephone conversations also count – senior clients will appreciate the effort to meet face to face whenever possible. That’s why every member of Coleman’s team has a webcam on their computer. “We frequently have meetings where the client is in their kitchen, we’re in our offices and we can all see each other,” he says.

Coleman also makes visiting his office easy for clients. His staff explains and even sets up ride-sharing apps, such as Uber, if transportation support is needed. This comes in especially handy for clients with mobility issues who don’t want to hail a cab.

Another strategy is to allow clients to bring peer support, if that would put them more at ease.

“There can often be a power imbalance between older adults and the advisor,” says Graham Webb, executive director of the Toronto-based Advocacy Centre for the Elderly. “If an older adult is coming in for advice, it can be very helpful to the older adult to [bring] a friend, neighbour or relative who doesn’t have any financial or legal interest [in the meeting].” (For example, the peer support person shouldn’t have any interest in the client’s estate.)

Rather, the role of the support person is to witness the meeting and absorb any information so the client and the support person can confer with each other after the meeting. While the support person should agree to confidentiality, use your discretion regarding what type of information to share when the support person is in the room.

Do your due diligence to determine whether translation and interpretation services may be needed. Clients come from various backgrounds, so don’t assume English is their first language, Webb says. Clients also may have hearing impairments that a hearing device may not solve. In this case, you may need to call in a sign language interpreter.

Webb’s team asks whether these services are needed before setting up the appointment. Webb makes clear that he does not rely on family members for these services and uses professionals instead.

“There may be a conflict of interest [with family members],” Webb says. “We run across many cases where older adults have made legal or financial decisions relying on the interpretation of family members, [and] it turns out that the family member financially abused the older adult.” IE

Create a welcoming office environment

When serving senior clients, creating a comfortable physical environment can be just as important as your communication methods. Senior clients are less likely to feel at ease when meetings are held in your personal workspace.

“I see more and more offices these days that look like living rooms than offices,” says Barry LaValley, president and transition specialist at Nanaimo, B.C.-based Retirement Lifestyle Center. The goal is to get away from an institutionalized-looking environment, which won’t draw the desired emotional responses from clients.

LaValley recommends holding meetings in a quiet room with a round table. Working across a desk, on the other hand, enforces an unproductive student/teacher dynamic. You also can set up comfortable chairs – but not too comfortable, as clients may have difficulty getting out of those.

Buildings should be accessible – this means ramps, elevator access and so on – and the meeting room itself should have ample space for seniors to navigate the room with walkers or wheelchairs.

Developing an environment that has good ambience should be another focus.

There should be enough light in the room, but not too much. Older adults may be sensitive to bright lights. “Too much light can be difficult for people with certain types of vision disorders,” says Graham Webb, executive director of the Toronto-based Advocacy Centre for the Elderly.

Furthermore, odours and noise should be kept to a minimum. Outside noise, in particular, can interrupt or limit communication, especially if the client has a hearing impairment.

You also can keep certain tools on hand that can make communication easier. For example, Webb suggests keeping a Pocketalker in your office – a portable amplifying device for individuals with mild to moderate hearing impairments; the listener wears a headset, while the speaker talks into a microphone.