For Tina Tehranchian, certified financial planner and branch manager at the Richmond Hill office of Assante Financial Management Ltd., business and pleasure are inseparable.

Tehranchian looks upon her book of 600 clients as people to whom she can extend friendship as well as financial advice. As well, her extensive involvement in volunteer and community work frequently leads to close relationships. Many of these contacts become clients; others are able to provide professional services to Tehranchian’s clients when they are looking for help in an area of their lives outside of financial planning. It all creates a web of connections with people Tehranchian likes, and that makes working life pleasurable, as well as successful, she says.

“People respond positively to the personal touch,” says Tehranchian, whose Persian last name translates to “native of Tehran.” “I feel close to my clients and treat them as friends. For that reason, I’m selective about the clients I work with, and I want to make sure it’s a compatible arrangement before committing to a business relationship. Financial planning can be a tough business, but it can also be a lot of fun if you deal with clients you enjoy.”

Tehranchian started her financial career in the life insurance business in 1991, shortly after she moved from Tehran to Canada with her husband and young son. Although born in Iran, she attended university in the U.S., earning a bachelor of arts degree in political science and commerce, as well as a masters in communications from the University of Portland in Oregon. After graduating, she and her husband, Shahdad Bekhrad, an architect and civil engineer, returned to Iran for six years, where she worked as director of communications for a film distribution company and he worked on large engineering projects. But when their son Joobin was born, the couple wanted him to grow up in Canada.

“We wanted our son to have the opportunities of a free society, in which diversity is welcome and minorities are treated properly,” she says.

The family moved in 1990 to Toronto and essentially started from scratch. Tehranchian answered an ad in the newspaper that led to a job with Sun Life Assurance Co. of Canada. From there, she made her way through a couple of other insurance and financial firms, all the while adding to her accreditations. In addition to her CFP, she is a chartered life underwriter, a chartered financial consultant and is a graduate of the Canadian Securities Institute’s securities course.

Tehranchian eventually established her own life insurance agency before deciding to branch out and offer the full spectrum of financial products. She was working as a branch manager for Financial Concept Group when it was bought by Assante in 1998. She has about $24 million in client assets under management held at Assante, as well as a significant business on the insurance side.

“There are some clients for whom I do only insurance, whether it’s key-person insurance for a business or disability, critical care or life insurance,” Tehranchian says. “Insurance policies provide me with commission and renewal income.”

The bulk of her clients are self-employed business owners or professionals such as doctors, lawyers and accountants. About 40% are female entrepreneurs.

“Initially, I didn’t make a conscious choice to target entrepreneurs. But about 10 years ago, I analysed my business and saw that not only were entrepreneurs predominant but they were the people I enjoyed working with the most,” Tehranchian says. “I understand the challenges entrepreneurs face, and can identify with the family and business challenges faced by female entrepreneurs, in particular.”

Tehranchian says the biggest difference between entrepreneurs and employees is that entrepreneurs lack the benefits and safety nets offered to employees of established companies. “There are no rich pension plans or group benefits, so entrepreneurs must look after themselves,” she says. “Critical illness and disability insurance are particularly important to self-employed people, and they must also provide for their own retirement.

“Entrepreneurs can make use of all of the products and services I provide. I’ve noticed that the more lines of business a client has with me, the greater the loyalty. With entrepreneurs, there are many areas to touch on,” she says.

Because entrepreneurs may experience irregular income rather than a steady paycheque, products must fit their needs, she says. For example, a traditional whole life insurance policy that requires regular premiums would be less suitable for an entrepreneur than a universal life policy that allows flexibility in the payment schedule. Sometimes creditor-proofing and bankruptcy protection are major concerns for business people; in these cases, she would recommend segregated funds.

@page_break@With disability insurance, she finds, most entrepreneurs need high coverage for total disability, but partial disability is less of a concern: “As long as they can drag themselves to work, most entrepreneurs are going to get up and go. They’re not the type to sit at home and collect disability payments unless working is completely impossible.”

A lot of the growth in her business comes from referrals from existing clients and from a handful of lawyers and accountants who deal with small-business people and with whom Tehranchian “refers clients back and forth.” She speaks Persian fluently, and about 25% of her clientele is from the Iranian community.

Since 1994, Tehranchian has been teaching financial planning at Toronto’s Centennial College Centre for Entrepreneurship, and for the past two years she has taught part of a CSI course on effective management. Some of her students become clients. She always offers to put her students on her e-mail list for the bi-monthly newsletter she writes, which she finds to be a good way to stay in touch without the “hard sell.” Former students often call her a few years later, when something changes in their lives and they need advice or financial planning.

Tehranchian’s business is both fee-based and commission-based. She explains to clients that they can choose from a menu of fee-based options, or they can buy products for which she is paid a sales commission. About 95% of the time, they go the traditional route of paying her a commission on products sold.

“It’s important that clients understand the different ways of doing business and are free to make a choice,” she says.

Tehranchian stays in contact with her clients, letting them know she is interested in their lives and on top of their financial affairs. She holds regular client appreciation events, including an annual evening event for women that features a guest speaker on a health issue, a fashion show and a bit of financial information mixed in with the fun and entertainment.

“I regularly call my clients on their birthdays and other special occasions, and they notice if I don’t,” she says.

Tehranchian loves to be actively involved in the community and is currently an advisory council member at the Family Service Association of Toronto and a director of the Jewish Vocational Services of Greater Toronto. She is also a founding member and the chair of the Iranian Canadian Network for Employment and Entrepreneurship, which sets up job-related mentoring relationships between new immigrants and established members of the community. She is a member of the planned giving advisory committee of the Princess Margaret Hospital Foundation. She is a global board member of the Encyclopedia Iranica Foundation and recently organized a gala that raised more money than events held in any other city, including New York and Los Angeles.

“Through all my community work and networking, I’ve come to know so many people from all walks of life,” she says. “I’m a virtual Rolodex for my clients when they need something, whether it’s a wedding photographer or a travel agent. Building up a network really adds value to what you can offer your clients. And if you make a good impression and are enthusiastic and reliable, you don’t have to use high-pressure sales tactics to build your business. As long as you’re out there making contact and people know what you do, it ultimately will lead to referrals.” IE