Serving elderly and disabled clients

Financial advisors who provide services to disabled and senior clients can grow their businesses significantly over the next decade as the population ages.

“Many firms have not yet realized the impact that the disabled and seniors will have on their businesses,” says Donna Jodhan, president and founder of Barrier-Free Canada, an advocacy organization for the disabled. “It’s an untapped market. The sooner [financial advisors] focus on this demographic, the sooner they and their clients will benefit.”

Says Steve Gibson, president of Accessibility Canada, an accessibility consulting and training company: “Five or 10 years ago, accessibility was a goodwill sort of thing. But now, because of the growing number [of disabled people and seniors], it’s good business.”

The average age of Canada’s 8.2 million baby boomers is almost 65, and with aging comes more disabilities, reports Statistics Canada. Many life changes occur during the retirement years, so many financial plans will need to be updated over the next 10 years or so. Thirty-three per cent of Canadians over the age of 65 and 43% of those over age 75 report having a disability. Eighty per cent of those who report having a disability also say they require at least one form of aid, assistive device or medication.

Pain, flexibility issues and mobility issues are the most common disabilities, but vision and hearing impairment also are prevalent. These afflictions affect clients’ finances and require careful planning – a valuable service you can provide.

Some advisors and dealer firms invest in resources for the disabled and seniors markets. While the proposed Accessible Canada Act has not been passed, it could be enacted as early as next year. Anticipation of this legislation will drive investment firms’ compliance spending. At the provincial level, only Manitoba, Ontario and Nova Scotia have enacted disability legislation. The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, for example, aims to improve accessibility standards for all public establishments for Ontarians who have physical and mental disabilities by 2025.

Regardless of legislation, many advisors are taking steps to make their practices more accessible to seniors and people with disabilities.

“It takes practise to become adept at advising the disabled,” says Janine Purves, senior financial advisor with Assante Financial Management Ltd. in Richmond Hill, Ont. “But, be careful [about] equating aging and disabilities with your [elderly] clients. Many seniors are healthy and independent, so diplomacy is required.”

The disabled and seniors compose up to 40% of Purves’ book of business. She has taken courses on the impact of aging and on elder planning to help her understand the psychology of aging – a strategy that has helped her grow her practice.

Purves’ office building is equipped with accessible elevators, ramps, doorways and furniture. Her client meeting area is designed to reduce noise distractions for client whose hearing is impaired. She uses an oversized computer screen and large type sizes in documents’ text for clients who are visually impaired.

At the firm level, Assante has held in-house workshops at which advisors, experienced in helping the disabled and seniors, share their knowledge.

Purves adds that seniors embrace online-support technology more than her younger clients. She uses online screen-sharing and voice-over- internet protocol to help stay in contact with her clients, particularly with senior clients who have downsized by moving to smaller communities or who head to warmer climates in winter.

Such changes can have significant financial planning implications. Downsizing can reduce debt and free up money for investment. Retirement, travel and aging are topics of conversation that can lead to discussions about long-term disability and travel insurance.

“Assisting disabled clients is part of an advisor’s professionalism,” says Christine Van Cauwenberghe, vice president, tax and estate planning, with Investors Group Inc. (IG) in Winnipeg. “We try to accommodate clients in every reasonable manner.”

Identifying the current and potential financial implications of a client’s disability, as well as the changes that result from aging, is part of an advisor’s role, Van Cauwenberghe says. You should always tailor investment strategies and portfolios to each client’s current and future needs. Asking health-related questions is an integral part of IG’s estate planning service, Van Cauwenberghe says. IG’s advisors are trained to understand applicable legislation and how to ask the right questions tactfully.

Supporting the disabled is more than good business practice, Van Cauwenberghe says. It’s “quite simply, the right thing to do.”

Tips Toward Establishing an Accessible Practice

Disabled and senior clients – like any other clients – expect you to earn their trust, says Donna Jodhan, president and founder of Barrier-Free Canada. A friendly demeanour, patience and a willingness to listen and learn will help you build strong relationships with these clients.

Here are some steps you can take to ensure your practice is accessible and your disabled and senior clients receive excellent service:

  • discuss current and potential disabilities early in the relationship
  • make sure you are compliant with the disability legislation in your province
  • ensure your online services and offices are accessible
  • show sensitivity and empathy when communicating with your clients
  • engage your clients’ family members and caregivers, especially those who hold power of attorney
  • establish relationships with your clients’ health practitioners, lawyers and accountants
  • meet your clients in their homes, by phone or online to reduce their travel burden
  • make sure your team members are trained in dealing with disabled and senior clients
  • determine whether clients are eligible for tax credits and pensions related to disabilities and aging
  • present disability-related “what if” scenarios when developing financial plans
  • discuss disability insurance in addition to investments
  • watch for signs of elder abuse – in particular, unusually large investment funds redemptions – and report any suspicious transactions to your compliance department.